The year is 1899. One a boat destined for New York the Golem awakes. But when her master falls ill on the voyage she finds herself unbound, alone after a few days of life. As a young widow, the crew allows her some strangeness and she soon finds herself at Ellis Island without papers or belongings beyond her master’s satchel. As she wanders the streets, one man, a rabbi, recognises what she is and takes her in; but can she learn to live as a human or will she ultimately face destruction? Meanwhile, in Little Syria a tinsmith sets out to repair an old flask only to be faced with a strange man. A man who claims to be a Djinni.
The Golem and the Djinni is a beautiful and unique story. I loved the Djinni from the start, he is so matter of fact but where he could have become selfish, he was generous. His indifference at the start means when he forms connections, they are all the stronger for it. Most of the story is set in 1899 but there are chapters which follow the Djinni before he became enslaved. He doesn’t remember what happened hundreds of years ago and the narrative slowly reveals his past. He is remarkably adaptable to modern day life but then he was very fortunate to be released into a forge; a place of fire where he fits in. Whilst the Golem is a creature of earth, he is one of fire and his reactions to water are priceless. I won’t spoil them, read it to find out.
The Golem was created to be intelligent and curious. Not things one would expect from a man asking for a wife at the turn of the century. And we all know how much trouble those two traits can cause (narratively speaking – we know they are positive in real life). She learns fats but she is very much a child in some ways and also must fight against the desires she senses in those around her. She’s really quite a complex character, battling against her instincts but somehow finding her own way.
Both the Golem and the Djinni represent many of the immigrants who found themselves in New York for the first time. They have to leave their lives behind but there are little pockets of home all around the city. Many of the immigrants are absorbed into the communities which act like independent towns within the city. The rabbi and his apostate nephew give a glimpse into the Jewish community at the time.
Now, I found it a slow read but I think that’s because I was savouring each page. The language is wonderful and I became absorbed in the streets of New York. There are little moments of humour and observations on the human condition. The story spans cultures and lifetimes, and all rolls together into a gripping climax. My heart went out to these two unorthodox individuals and their complicated existence.
The Golem and the Djinni is unbelievably Helene Wecker’s debut novel and will be published by Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins, in hardback and ebook editions on 15th August 2013. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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