The Golem and the Jinni
- Media: #Books #Books 2021
- Author: Helene Wecker
- Date: 2021-03-13
- Tags: #read #fantasy #magicalrealism #historical #immigration
A newborn golem whose master died as soon as she awoke and a djinn released from a thousand years imprisonment must learn to navigate the strange new world of 1899's New York with the help of a rabbi and a tinsmith. They struggle to lead human lives, the golem wishing only to serve and blend in, the djinn longing for freedom and to be himself.
The tenuous new world they carve out for themselves is turned upside down when the two meet. New challenges and old forces collide as their lives become increasingly entangled even as the golem's dark creator, who has a history with the djinn, follows them from the old world to the new and threatens to bind them both once more.
- Standing out vs fitting in
- Personhood and culture
- Old ways vs new ways
- Tradition vs freedom
A good book but yet somehow not enjoyable?
It's a well executed portrait and excellent vehicle/metaphor for tackling immigrant experience. However, the more fantastical it became the more it lost the poignancy and everyday struggles that kept the otherwise slight story afloat. By the final climax, there's magic flying and reduced what could have been a profound and nuanced take on this idea of tradition which won't let go into a more standard evil wizard type villain literally stalking the characters.
Nice ideas, but the overall package didn't work for me. I'd give it somewhere between 2.5-3 stars. I don't regret reading it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it either. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Things I loved...
- Charting the everyday experiences of a golem and a djinn is an excellent vehicle to explore the experience of immigrating to a new and radically different place and showcase the different communities around them.
- The characters captured the feeling and conflicts of being a foreigner in a new city, especially travelling old world -> new world, well in my opinion. "How could a street continue straight as a rod for miles and miles, without bending even once? It felt unnatural; it made his flesh creep." Anyone whose lived outside the new world and arrives in America knows exactly what this character is talking about.
- The golem is a fascinating (and well executed) character with unique struggles and dilemmas.
- The first half is a lovely bit of magical yet mundane, almost slice of life. Could totally imagine a different, Studio Ghibli version.
Things I didn't...
- I can't make up my mind if hopping between so many different characters helped by giving many different perspectives on the same central challenges and conflict or if it produced unnecessary distance and dissonance from the main characters and their narrative.
- I didn't like the djinn. It's bad, I know, but it didn’t really feel like he grew as much as the book would like you to think. His challenge, of trying to maintain his personal and cultural identity, could be particularly interesting but instead I found myself annoyed at him. I think the ending was supposed to show how he'd grown to be responsible but it still felt like he got let off for most of his actions.
- Maybe because I wasn't a djinn, but I didn't really enjoy the romance which becomes part of the focus of the second half of the book.
- I interpreted the villain as this idea of inescapable tradition/culture/your old self literally hunting you down. This could have been super nuanced so maybe I'm just missing the mark but the actual execution felt flat to me and more like a stereotypical villain who could have been more so much interesting.
- "Most idealists lived in their own impossible worlds, sealed away from reality; Maryam, it seemed, effortlessly reached out from hers and drew others inside."
- "To keep them away from his pallet, he’d surrounded it with concentric circles of mousetraps and lines of powdered carbolic. The tiny room now looked like an infidel altar, with himself as the sacrifice."
- "How could a street continue straight as a rod for miles and miles, without bending even once? It felt unnatural; it made his flesh creep."
- “True. But I prefer reason and agreement. Allies are much more useful than bodies.”
- Golem making workshop - "The edge of the nearby ravine was newly disfigured, a piece the length of a man scooped away. An earth-stained spade leaned against a wall." #locations
- Hunting for golem ingredients --> “It looks like skin. It feels like skin.” “It’s clay,” said the old man. “How did you do this?” The old man only smiled, and said nothing. “And the hair, and eyes? The fingernails? Are they clay too?” “No, those are real enough,” Schaalman said, blandly innocent. #adventures #fragments
- ! Golem walking along the sea floor. An undersea golem army? #fragments #creatures #water
- Hundreds of djinn riding the winds into clan battles, creating sand storms #creatures #worlds
- Djinn forced from a human mind leave fragments of themselves behind and become stunted. "The burning, twisted thing had been perched on a stunted tree, babbling and howling as the branches smoldered around it." #creatures
- "Among her husband’s female employees she worked as a matchmaker in reverse, listing their defects to any man who showed an interest." #characters #fragments