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28 June 2013

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a look at 1899 New York City, with a twist. Though it reads like historical fiction, and all of the time period details are accurate, the book is about two supernatural creatures.

In Poland, a learned man of dubious character has agreed to create a golem. This will not be a typical clay thug who will react like a puppet, but the most realistic human-seeming golem ever created. She has been requested to be the wife of a man who is moving to New York to start over. When the man is done and she is handed over to her soon-to-be-husband, she is put in a box to spend the trip across the ocean with the luggage.

But the man does not wait until reaching New York before saying the incantation that will wake her. They are mid-Atlantic when he awakens her. And she is bound to him - can even read his emotions and desires so she can serve him. But the man is sick and will not live through the voyage. Once unbound, the golem will continue on to New York to try and figure out what to do next.

Centuries ago, a jinni roamed the Syrian desert. He stayed away from humans and lived for hundreds of years, even building a palace of glass that could only been seen when the light hit it just right. He was content to work with metal he extracted from the ground and formed into beautiful art. As a creature of fire, this was his skill. But eventually, he got curious about humans.

And now, in New York City, a Syrian woman has brought a beautiful flask to a tinsmith to be repaired. Her family has kept if for generations and it has held up remarkably well. And it does not really need to be repaired now. Mostly it was brought to make sure the tinsmith was included in the community and had work to do.

After copying the intricate pattern around the flask, Arbeely set his torch to the metal to begin his work. But as soon as the pattern was marred, man appeared on his floor. The iron cuff on his arm preventing him from changing from is current human form.

And so two magical creatures find themselves in the chaos of New York City in 1899. They will have to find a way to blend into the crowd so no one discovers what they really are. Eventually, they will meet up and share their stories.

Wecker has created a wonderful book. She captures the good and bad of 1899 New York. Her characters, both human and magical, are complex and real. This book will appeal to fans of history, Jews who grew up with stories of  the golem, and anyone who read any of the magical folktales of the jinni.

Wecker, Helene. (2013). The Golem and the Jinni. New York: HarperCollins.

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