Monday, December 09, 2013

Book 110: The Golem and the Jinni

I bought this novel in May because the cover caught my eye (and the pages are lined blue), and then didn't even read it until September - I hadn't heard anything about it when I bought it but over the summer, it started getting quite a bit of favorable buzz.  Waiting was such a mistake - this novel was totally amazing, and I have only one small complaint about it, but I'll get to that later.
As the title implies, the novel focuses on two supernatural beings from different cultural traditions - the golem, which comes from Jewish folktales, and the jinni, which is rooted in Arabic mythology.  Given the complicated history of the Middle East, and Jewish and Islamic cultures, I thought it was such a creative and original idea to take two figures from their mythologies and make them the center piece of a novel.  In the stories, a golem is something created out of earth/clay to protect the community but there is always the chance that it will turn on its creator or prove too destructive and difficult to control.  Naturally, the jinni is a more common image to Western society with the idea of the lamp and three wishes, but there is certain amount of distrust in many of these stories as they often portray wishes gone wrong.  The golem of the story is unique and one of a kind - a man emigrating to the United States in the late 19th century commissions a mystic to create a wife for him.  The mystic at first scoffs at the idea but ends up intrigued by the idea of creating a golem with such a specific purpose and an actual personality.
Around the same time that Chava, the golem, arrives in the United States and comes under the tutelage of a kind, elderly rabbi due to circumstances, Ahmad is released from a lamp after being trapped for centuries.  A spirit of fire and wind, he has been bound into human form by a magical metal bracelet.  The two creatures are both very different from each other and have completely different experiences as they try to adjust to their life in the big city.  Both have the good fortune to discover humans kindly disposed to them, but they struggle with their daily lives and fitting in -especially since fitting in means repressing parts of their natures.  As a golem, Chava is essentially a creature that has been created to serve, work and protect, so she feels the pull to fulfill others' desires and wishes conflicting with her attempts to live her own life.  Ahmad, in contrast, feels restrained and has never had to consider the feelings or emotions of others in his interactions, leading him to making quite a few inconsiderate decisions.
The novel was absolutely magical, and Wecker did an amazing job of creating the New York communities that Chava and Ahmad lived in.  Not only did Chava and Ahmad feel like fully drawn characters, but all the supporting characters felt like fully formed people.  She also took her time in developing the story and didn't rush it.  As a result, my only disappointment is that after such a slow, enjoyable and immersive read, part of the ending seemed to happen incredibly quickly.  The build up was perfect, what happened made complete sense, but it felt so fast compared to everything else.  However, this is definitely one of my favorites for this year, and it's been mentioned on lots of best of the year lists so believe the hype and read it.

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