I have a lot of respect for this book. It’s wildly inventive, a truly unique blend of magical realism, historical fiction, and coming of age drama. The coming of age part is in a pretty roundabout way but I still think it’s highly applicable. There are multiple layers to the appeal of this book. Lovers of historical fiction will adore the meticulous research and the dedication to authenticity that accompanies the characters and setting. They will also marvel at the way Wecker seamlessly incorporates real folklore and legend from multiple cultures into the fantasy elements of the story. And obviously, fantasy lovers will love the more unique elements and the captivating way Wecker blends fantasy and reality.
The Golem and the Jinni follows two central characters: Chava, a golem, a creature made of clay created by a black magic dabbling rabbi to become the wife of a European immigrant who dies at sea, and Ahmad, a centuries old Jinni from the Syrian desert who finds himself accidentally released from the copper flask in which he was trapped. Both find themselves alone in an unfamiliar world in New York City at the end of the 19th century at the height of the immigration boom. As both struggle to fade into the multi-hued tapestry that has become New York City, they encounter one another and develop an unlikely but impenetrable bond that comes from their shared experience and sense of danger as something not human that would be rejected and vilified if exposed. Their stories converge in a way that is believable and natural, helping to bring their vulnerabilities and complexities to life.
Though Chava is in possession of superhuman strength and an ability to read the thoughts and desires of people she meets, she’s not without vulnerabilities. In fact, from a historical perspective both the stories of Chava and Ahmed pay homage to all immigrants who found themselves struggling in a foreign land during this period of great change. People from all over the world brought skills and knowledge that paved the way for progress and survival. Communities grew from a combination of shared struggles and triumphs. While their abilities may be of a supernatural nature unlike those of their fellow immigrants, Chava and Ahmad learn to hone their skills to ensure their respective communities see their value while not giving away the true nature of their gifts. Wecker presents a fascinating and illuminating view of New York City at the turn of the Century. As people began sinking into the melting pot that would become the United States as we know today, this book highlights the cultural divides and prejudices rampant at the time. Mistrust and superstition caused clashes between people of different beliefs and backgrounds, and the city was harsh and unforgiving.
This book is a truly unique experience, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel to continue the saga of Chava and Ahmad. I also think this would make a fabulous film, so I hope one day this comes to light. 4 1/2 stars.
Published April 23, 2013 by Harper. ISBN 0062110837. Hardcover. 486 pages.