A good fairytale should breathe magic into a familiar place. It should be a little dark and scary, and it should have a lesson or at least a reflection of who we are and who we could be. This is a great fairytale. Set in New York City in 1899, The Golem and the Jinni is an immigrant story of two neighborhoods – one Jewish, one Syrian, and their cultures, community and mysticism.
Ahmad is a thousand-year-old jinni. Born to be shapeless and free – he is bound to human form and chafes at his restricted life as a Syrian tinsmith. Chava is a newly created golem. Made to serve, Chava finds herself without a master and overwhelmed. There is a wonderful counterpoint at play between the two. They clash in almost every impulse, but are united in their loneliness and the weight of the secrets they must keep about their natures. The primary themes of free-will and destiny are revealed in complex layers and reflect through the relationships they have formed.
Beyond the fairytale aspects, it is just wondrous to see New York through their unique perspectives. The immigrant experience is thoughtfully illustrated and breathes more life into the struggles and joys than most historical fictions. Helene Wecker’s incorporation of mysticism does more than just provide the fantastical elements, it grounds the cultures in tradition. The Golem and the Jinni is an excellent book and highly recommended.