Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review: The Golem and The Jinni (#MustRead)

This is one of those books that was recommended on some list for something or other. I actually worry that all of my social media sites are actually just becoming different places for lists of books I should read. It's ridiculous. So, maybe this book was on a list of books for people who like fairy tales, or fable creatures, or something. It could have been on a "best thing we read this week/ month" sort of a list. It's definitely made my best of 2015 list for the year.
This story is really about four characters:
  • A rare female golem (Chava) made with curiosity and intelligence for her master, who promptly dies, and the man that created her. 
  • A jinni (Ahmad) who has been trapped in a flask for 1000 years and can't remember how he got there, and the man that becomes his mentor and friend.
  • There are a number of other characters that move the story along: a man who is struggling to keep a homeless shelter open with scraps, a love- seeking young girl that Chava works with and befriends, etc. 

Golems are a part of the Jewish tradition. They are creatures made from clay and usually unthinking beings focused on the protection and desire- fulfillment of their masters. Chava has been created with intelligence, with plenty of references to the idea that maybe her master doesn't know what he's getting himself into. Chava has to figure out how to repress her own feelings and nature in order to function well in the world of people. She's physically strong and always scared of being discovered. Lots of things to get feminist panties in a twist, right? Right. There're are two secret incantations that are important to her life, but which would she choose and can she be bound and independent?

Every one knows a little about Jinns. They are creatures from Arabian mythology. They are spiritual beings and can sometimes take the shape of other creatures or possess people, for good or bad. Legend says that if you find one, you are it's master and it is bound to you. Some stories say they have to grant you a wish or three and then you are on your own. In this story, Ahmad is accustomed to being able to do what he wants when he wants; He has to learn how to temper his impulses and that his actions have real consequences. Because he's made of fire, he's vulnerable to rain. But he's also starting to understand what it means to be connected to people. 

The setting is 1899 across different neighborhoods in New York City with a few flashbacks to when Ahmad was a care-free jinni stalking caravans of people. In the background noise for Chava and Ahmad figuring out what the hell is going on and are the racial and gender nuttinesses of the time period and the poverty and plight of immigrants coming through Ellis Island.

The story is quick paced with good character development and a few surprises. The writing is clean and clear. The relationship that the Golem and the Jinni develop is mostly satisfying and gives us a chance to get to know them as they get to know each other. And in the end, they have to come together for bigger fish to fry than they could have ever imagined. 



 



Union Square 1899; Lower Broadway 1899; Lower East Side, 1901
http://www.nyc-architecture.com/SPEC/GAL-BW.htm
Golem and Jinni pics found through internet search, no rights claimed by writer

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