Helene Wecker’s “The Golem and the Jinni”

A Must Read 300This week I am reviewing Helene Wecker’s 2013 debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, which was a complete impulse buy. The Golem and the Jinni is a general fiction novel with some elements of fantasy and historical fiction, and follows the lives of Chava and Ahmad, two immigrants who are trying to find their way in 1899 New York City. While many immigrants had difficulty with the culture shift they found when arriving in America, oftentimes accompanied by only a few family members or friends of the same ethnicity, Chava and Ahmad have an added challenge: they are supernatural entities. Chava, a golem created by a shady rabbi in the “old land” of Konin, finds herself without a master, a situation most golems can’t recover from, let alone a golem with the particular self-awareness that Chava exhibits. Ahmad, on the other hand, is a jinni freed from centuries of imprisonment in a tinsmith’s shop in Little Syria. Born as extreme embodiments of their cultures, both Chava and Ahmad have to find a way to survive in a land with so little a definition as “America.”

Normally, debut novels can be awkward to read, and are easily identified as the least mature work the author publishes, technically speaking. I was immensely impressed with Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni. Wecker manages to make scenes explode into life in front of the reader and, even more impressively, makes two utterly surreal characters seem real in their thoughts, actions, and motivations. The mythology in the book is handled well, and only steps too close to cliché one or twice in its placement in the story. Wecker’s economy of writing is superb, providing plenty of detail and flare without becoming cumbersome. Perhaps my favorite quality of this book is Wecker’s tendency to write in a style that almost approaches stream-of-consciousness (sometimes). For example, the reader is given the impression of Chava’s urgency in scanning an unfamiliar room or circumstance while avoiding the trite randomness that many authors feel must be included in stream-of-consciousness. Ultimately, The Golem and the Jinni is a charming, adventurous novel that expertly explores the human search for individual identity. The characters are ironically human, the setting readily brought to life, and the mythology captivating in its fusion with the real world. While I wouldn’t necessarily call The Golem and the Jinni to be a masterpiece, it is certainly a fantastic debut novel. Helene Wecker is an author to watch.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor