Book Review: ‘The Golem and the Djinni’ by Helene Wecker

Posted: 13 June 2014 in Book reviews
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Set in 19th century New York, ‘The Golem and the Djinni’ tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two supernatural beings. Chava is a golem, born of clay and other matter to be the wife to Otto Rotfeld. She was crafted by disgraced rabbi Yehudah Schaalman. Together they travelled over the sea to New York to carve a better life. The only problem was that Otto, her master, doesn’t make it, dying shortly after his appendix is received. Masterless she roams around until she meets Rabbi Avram Meyer. He is conflicted at first whether to destroy her or not, but the longer she remains the more he believes she stands a chance at overcoming her nature. It’s not until she learns to cook that it is suggested, by Meyer’s nephew Michael Levy, that she work at a bakery.

In the beginning, it was hard for her at the bakery. But over time she was able to use her golem abilities (hearing peoples desires) to help the customers and make them content if only in a small way. She also moved from the rabbi’s home into a boarding house. This gave the rabbi the freedom to do some research. He was trying to devise a a formula to attach the golem to a new master. It was dark work, but he felt it was necessary as a precaution. The day he finished the formula was sadly his last. Chava was distraught. She tried to do her usual busywork, but couldn’t and decided to break taboo and go for a walk. Then she met the djinni.

Ahmad is a djinni who was trapped in a flask some hundreds of years ago. He was released by a tinsmith Boutros Arbeely. Ahmad (not his real name since he can’t remember it) is almost polar opposite to Chava. Where she is cautious and considerate, he is spontaneous and unconsidered about others. Life with Arbeely is a huge challenge for him (as well as for Arbeely), but he suffers through it as he know nothing about this new world.

He spends his nights roaming the city, or breaking in to places like the aquarium. It is on one of these walks that he first encounters Chava. They understand that each other are not human, but their personalities are completely different. He is carefree, reckless, and inconsiderate, while she is cautious, timid, and thoughtful. But somehow despite these differences they are able to form some kind of friendship.

But disasters is getting ever closer when the Yehudah Schaalman arrives in his search for eternal life. Something is not right with him, but by the time his intentions are discovered, it may already be too late.

Alright. To be honest, the book was okay. I checked it out on a recommendation so I’m not too disappointed, but in my opinion it has some major flaws.

Now the story itself was really interesting. Two supernatural characters from different mythologies end up crossing paths and becoming friends in 19th-century New York. They each have to learn to live within the confines of their situation and she does it much better than he does. And then there is the unknown bad guy.

There are plenty of secondary characters and in general they are fine. You leanr bits and pieces about them, but not much. The weird thing with some of the secondary characters is that they come into the story, but have no point. Like the rich girl that Ahmad meets, impregnates, and then that’s it. What was the point? I perceive it was to show how his choices affect others around him, but he never learns about her pregnancy and if he figures it out the author doesn’t let you know. Ahmad ha almost no character progression. Actually none of the characters have much character progression. Things happen and they react, but don’t learn. Ahmad changes some at the end, but too late to really go anywhere. In that regard, Ahmad and Chava were kind of disappointing (Ahmad more so).

The writing was alright as well. Other than obvious holes regarding the many characters in the book, the main plot was tied up rather well. Not much else to say about it really.

All in all, it was an ok read. If you want to have a go at it, go ahead, but there are other books of the genre that you would probably enjoy more. In any case, get it from your library if you do read it. If you think me wrong, please let me know. Peace 😉

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