Once in a while, sometimes in a book group or at the insistence of a friend, you read a book that is totally outside of your realm or range of tastes. This happened recently when a fantasy called The Golem and Jinni, a terrific novel by Helene Wecker, appeared on the shelves at the Monrovia Public Library. Negative expectations were turned on their head when the fantasy mixed with historical fiction turned out to be a marvelous page-turner.
This story mixed two fantastic characters—a golem (from Jewish folklore a creature who magically comes to life) and a jinni (from Mid-Eastern culture a flaming spirit who can choose to be seen)—who, through fascinating circumstances, both come to New York City at the turn-of-the-20th-century. Posing as humans, the two interact with the multicultural groups of people who populate the tenements and businesses of the time and then meet. Strangers in a strange land, the female golem Chava and the male djinni Ahmad both feel the tug of wanting to be human and the comfort and familiarity of being magical creatures. Mercurial and flawed, the two characters also strive to take on the characteristics of real people.
The Golem and the Jinni is incredibly original and took seven years to write. Starting out as a children’s story for a class at Columbia University, the author kept rewriting it and realized that it would work best as an adult novel. The layers of secondary characters that the author created are equally entertaining. And, when the book ends the reader continues to think about Chava and Ahmad and what their future holds.