This is the story of a golem and a jinni, how they discover who they are, their strengths, their weaknesses, and how, even though they’re composed of completely different elements, they may just be the best friend for each other in a human world where they will never truly belong.
I’m such a geek. As I was reading The Golem and the Jinni, enjoying their adventures and waiting to see how they would discover their origins, I didn’t consider for a moment the idea that the tale could be a metaphor for something else. Which is really dumb because I tend to write entirely in metaphors so you think I’d have a clue when I was reading somebody else’s, but no. When I read the Q&A with the author at the end of the book, I was really kicking myself. Of course, it made total sense as a metaphor for cultural differences. And, when I thought about it that way, I liked the story even more. On the other hand, this tale can be completely enjoyed and interpreted as a historical fiction/fairytale and, if you’re not in the mood to think any deeper than that, it doesn’t matter, because it’s still awesome. So, it’s a win/win book for the deep thinkers and the no thinkers.
The Golem and the Jinni is not a fast read. Wecker really builds the characters and gives the back story for everybody who comes across the page. At first I was like, “Do we really need to know the Ice Cream Dude’s life story?” and I was getting frustrated with the pacing of it. But, as her characters came together and their lives began to intertwine, I began to appreciate the true artistry of the novel. It is like an orchestral fugue in which the instruments play their themes one by one at the beginning, which is beautiful, but when the tones combine, it lifts the piece to a whole other place. That is The Golem and the Jinni. Give it the time and space to build the characters and you will be blown away by the ending. At least, I was.
Wecker has a talent for creating multi-layered characters. Though the golem is only a few hours old, the author manages to instill in her a childlike curiosity mixed with the timelessness of a magical creature. Here, the golem is seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time: “The deck was crowded with people, and at first the Golem didn’t see what they were waving at. But then, there she was: a gray-green woman standing in the middle of the water, holding a tablet and bearing aloft a torch. Her gaze was unblinking, and she stood so still: was it another golem? … And those on deck were waving and shouting at her with jubilation, crying even as they smiled. This, too, the Golem thought, was a constructed woman. Whatever she meant to the others, she was loved and respected for it. For the first time… the Golem felt something like hope. pg 17 ebook.
She also describes scenes just beautifully. In this passage, the Jinni sees New York harbor: “The Jinni leaned against the railing, transfixed by the view. He was a creature of the desert, and never in his life had he come so close to this much water. It lapped at the stone below his feet, reaching now higher, now lower. Muted colors floated on its surface, and afternoon sunlight reflecting in the ever-changing dips of the waves. Still it was hard to believe that this was not some expert illusion, intended to befuddle him. At any moment he expected the city and water to dissolve, to be replaced by the familiar steppes and plateaus of the Syrian Desert, his home for close to two hundred years.” pg 23 ebook
I loved the little, let’s call them “wisdom nuggets,” that Wecker sprinkled throughout the story. Like: “A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You’ll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts.” pg 40 ebook. Or: “Men need no reason to cause mischief, only an excuse!” pg 172 ebook.
I also connected with this passage where the Jinni is thinking about the power of names: “To him the new name suggested that the changes he’d undergone were so drastic, so pervasive, that he was no longer the same being at all. He tried not to dwell on such dark thoughts, and instead concentrated on speaking politely, and maintaining his story- but every so often, as he listened to the chatter of yet more visitors, he spoke his true name to himself in the back of his mind, and took comfort in the sound.” pg 68 ebook. It has nothing to do with this story but that, among many reasons, is why I refused to change my name when I was married.
I recommend The Golem and the Jinni for folks who enjoy historical fiction blended with fantasy, folks who love deep characters, and for anyone who loves to read beautiful prose. This book has all of that. Some read-alikes:The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory or Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley.
Thanks for reading!