Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene WeckerFor most refugees, losing a spouse halfway through the journey to America would be horrible. For Chava, it is almost world-ending. Not because she loved her husband, but because she was his servant. Chava is a golem, a being sculpted from clay and given life with dark magic.

Ahmad once roamed Syria like a god, reshaping his form at will and exploring the minds of the humans who crossed the country’s vast deserts. Endless powers, yet he still found himself outsmarted, imprisoned in a copper flask for centuries. Even once released from the flask, Ahmad is still trapped in physical form by an unbreakable iron band.

In a city of millions, these impossible creatures meet. And in a few horrifying moments, Chava and Ahmad are bound together in a way they could never have imagined. Someone else knows who they are, and will stop at nothing to bring them under his control.

A glorious debut

I loved The Golem and the Jinni. The plot is excellent, with several well-placed twists and an ending that’s just the right mix of bitter and sweet.

But in many ways the facts of the story are secondary; Helene Wecker’s novel is a master class in character study.

Just like humans do, Chava and Ahmad spend a great deal of time puzzling over their origin and purpose. Do they have souls, can they go against what nature has made them, are they purposeless without a master?

Much of the tension in their friendship comes from their clashing views on life. Chava is cautious, solicitous, and afraid to explore her new world; Ahmad is hedonistic, and does what he wants without thinking about who might be affected.

Yet as their situation grows increasingly dangerous, we see them learn from each other. Chava becomes braver, and uses her ingrained curiosity more frequently; Ahmad learns to temper his desires and think further than five minutes ahead.

The Golem and the Jinni is an engrossing look at turn-of-the-century New York City, mythology, and superstition. It’s also cerebral, giving the reader plenty of ethical and moral dilemmas and thoughts to gnaw on and discuss. The story is beautifully written, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

The next in the series, The Iron Season, hits shelves in 2018.

(I read this book as part of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. It’s also my June book for the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge!)

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