I’ve been in a bit of a book rut. Nothing I’ve read for the past two months made me want to review it (although I might muster up a review of the Stainless Steel Rat books). But then I started reading Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni. To find a novel that is so wonderful that I want to shout it from the rooftops is what makes me want to review books. The book is a wonderful look at New York in the early 1900s with its Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The look at two magical souls that are lost and alone while trying to survive in the this time is just amazing. I can’t recommend it enough. So let’s take a look at what the book’s about.
Over in Europe, Otto Rotfield is the only son of a wealthy family. After he quickly destroys his inheritance, he decides to start over in America. Not wanting to be alone (and not have the any redeeming characteristics), Rotfield hires Schaalman, a disgraced rabbi, to make him a female golem who would be suitable as his wife. The golem was packed and loaded onto the boat to America and Rotfield had the commands to wake her. Not feeling well and not wishing to wait until America, Rotfield awakens the golem on the boat. He then collapses from a burst appendix and dies. The golem is then left alone with no master. She makes her way to New York and is found by a rabbi who recognizes her as a golem and sets out to teach her to survive, while researching on how to control her if need be.
Meanwhile, in the Little Syria area of New York, a tinsmith name Arbeely is working on fixing an old iron lamp when out pops a jinni. He is confused and mad and not understanding why he is no longer in the Arabian desert several hundred years in the past. With nowhere else to go and not in possession of his full powers (due to the iron chain still on his wrist), the Jinni settles down to work with Arbeely in the tinsmith shop using the name Ahmad.
When the golem and the jinni meet each other the plot really starts. Meanwhile the rabbit is dying, his nephew is running a shelter for Jewish people new to America and Schaalman is starting to wonder what happened to that golem.
All in all, it’s a wonderful story that evokes the best magical realism story I’ve read since G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen. The characters are fully human, even the ones who are not human. They are real people with their complex needs and desires that are unique to each of them. And the plot is fairly straight forward and never compromises on where it’s going. Wecker has created a wonderful story that makes me want to shout to the world that everyone needs to read it. Highly recommended.