Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni: A Book Review

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni spins a captivating tale, one I have been waiting to read, experience, and am eager to confront once again. While some disguise the novel as historical fiction, outside of the primary setting, late 1890’s New York City, the novel focuses more on the mythical and fantastical. Page after page, the reader confronts mythological precepts of both Arab and Jewish origins, yet these points come to us in a metropolitan era and in a city of cultural convergence. The fantastical becomes real, humanity converges and merges with it, and one becomes lost in the existential nature of those that lack humanity attempting to be human.

From the get go, we are introduced to the mythical, fabled creature made of clay: The Golem. This figure is lifelike and free to roam the world without a master after the man died at sea just moments after animating her. Unsure of her nature, prone to fits of anger she cannot control, the Golem seeks refuge in a world of confusion. She is cast into New York City after walking along the bottom of the sea floor to avoid immigration and comes out of the sea a lost newborn. Were the reader only privy to this tale: the education and acclimation of an alien creature to the world, then he may be happy, for she is soon seen for what she is by a skilled and learned Rabbi and thus taken in and groomed toward humanity.

But the reader is given a second tale, that of a Jinni, a creature made of fire that has been imprisoned in a flask for generations. The Jinni is released by a Syrian Blacksmith, Arbeely, who takes the organism, trapped in human form, in as his apprentice. The narrative then juxtaposes back and forth between the two plights as each creature creates a purpose and seeks to find its place in society. Ultimately, and begrudgingly, the two meet and begin a mutual narrative, one distrust and anger, one that seeks a Golem looking for a purpose, a Jinni looking for freedom, and the seemingly destructive force the pair is, turning everything they touch into either earth or fire before discovering that they share a bond more concrete than their fantastical nature.

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