The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

I loved this novel.

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

‘Again she felt that creeping sense of unreality, as though he’d merely stepped from a tale.  As though none of this were truly happening.’

 

Two foreigners, in more than one sense of the word, emerge onto the streets of New York in 1899.  The first is a golem from Danzig, a woman fashioned from clay as the wife of a man who dies as they travel across the ocean.  The second is a djinni from the Syrian desert, trapped inside a copper flask until a routine repair by a tinsmith sets him free.  In folklore, djinnis and golems are both powerful and vulnerable.  The djinni is made of fire, his natural enemies are iron and water.  The golem is docile, but incredibly strong. Both can live forever.  And together?

‘..one night the Djinni crossed paths with a strange and astonishing woman, a woman made of clay.’

Neither the djinni, known as Ahmad nor the golem known as Chava require sleep.  Both are fortunate to find employment and lodgings with people who accept them.  Chava’s kindly rabbi is a gentle and generous soul. The djinni forms a partnership of sorts with the tinsmith.

Around the bare bones of the djinni and the golem Ms Wecker weaves a rich and complicated story.  The djinni has a past, the golem has a creator.  Both are in danger and both pose danger to others. Can they have a future?

‘The human mind is not meant to house a thousand years of memories.’

I loved this novel.  I loved the way that Ms Wecker created and then bought together the golem, the djinni and the other characters who are part of the story.  It takes a while to establish the various strands of the story and then to weave them together. Careful reading is necessary, there are complexities to the story that make their own perfect sense as the story unfolds.

This is Ms Wecker’s first novel: I hope that it’s not the last.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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