The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Length: 657 pages
I loved this book. It isn’t the kind of book I would generally read – which is why I thought I would write a review. The main attraction was the book’s length – over 600 pages, I’m a quick reader so anything under 350 is usually a no-no. The trouble with this book is I didn’t want it to end!!
As well as being long the Golem and the Djinni ticked a couple more of my boxes – it is based around Middle Eastern and Jewish culture and is set in the late 19th century. If you like magic then it ticks that box too – I personally don’t generally read magical books but I know it’s a popular genre.
I had no idea what a Golem was before reading this book so had to Google before I took the plunge – a golem is a figurine made of clay and then brought to life by a rabbi – it is part of Jewish mythology. In this story, the Golem is created as a wife for a particularly unpleasant man who specifies the characteristics he wants the creature to have. Her story starts in Poland but moves to New York where she is discovered by another rabbi who then takes her under his wing, this rabbi helps the golem to cope with life in New York, helps her find a job and eventually somewhere to live.
Parallel to the golem’s story we have that of the djinni. The djinni hails from Syria and again he travels to New York where his path eventually crosses with that of the golem.
The book goes back and forth from the history of the two protagonists and their new lives in New York. The characters they meet are well drawn and the author skilfully creates an atmospheric read with a lot of twists and turns. As Chava, the golem, and Ahmad, the djinni, try to establish ‘normal’ lives, their own natures cause various difficulties for themselves and those around them. Both characters feel their alien-ness and have to come to terms with being out of their comfort zone in the busyness that is New York – the portrait of that great city is also skilfully woven by Ms Wecker as she creates a great backdrop for Chava and Ahmad. The struggles faced by the two main characters are those faced by many people – the addition of their magical qualities just makes this a fascinating read.
The Golem and the Djinni is a slow burn, a book to be savoured and not hurried, blending historical fiction with magic and fantasy the author has created a book that leaves the reader wanting more. Highly recommended.