Stories about the lives of the late 20th and early 21st century immigrants who came to America for new lives and opportunities are a common tale. What is uncommon is the cultural and religious myths that these immigrants take with them.
Helene Wecker’s 2013 novel, The Golem and the Jinni is about two mythical beings who find themselves in New York City in 1899 and how they survive.
Chava is a golem. According to Jewish myth, a golem is made of clay and mud and brought to life by only the most learned of rabbis. The golem is beholden to follow it’s master’s instructions and can be destroyed as easily as it has been created. Traditionally, a golem has been brought to life to protect a shtetl’s citizens from their marauding neighbors. Ahmad is a Jinni or a genie. Most of us in the west know of the myth of the jinni through the stories of A Thousand And One Nights or Aladdin. The person who rubs to jinni’s lamp is the jinni’s master and must grand the person his or her three wishes.
Chava was made for a man who is eager to start a new life and a family in America. The problem is, that no woman, at least, the women he envisions marrying want anything to do with him. So he goes to a hermit who makes him a wife. The man dies while on the voyage, leaving his golem’s future unknown until a rabbi takes her in and helps her into a life of semi normalcy. Ahmad is released by a tin smith who thinks nothing of the flask he is repairing until Ahmad appears. The tin smith attempts to help Ahmad integrate into the community. Ahmad repays the tinsmith by working in his shop.
When Chava and Ahmad meet, there is an immediate connection. There is also a danger as someone from both of their pasts is eager to gain control of their combined powers.
The book is rather long and does meander at points. While the ending and the book itself could have been cut down a little, the plot itself is different and interesting.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.