Sunday, March 16, 2014

Helene Wecker: The Golem and the Jinni

Helene Wecker
The Golem and the Jinni
486 pages

After reading the novel, the following kept running through my mind, adapted from a soap opera of many decades ago:  "Can a Jewish Golem and a Jinni from the sands of Arabia find happiness in the teeming tenements of nineteenth century New York City."

And the answer is--Perhaps.

This is her first novel, and, frankly, I consider it to be a great debut.  I'm not one who normally reads fantasy, (this was a selection for a book discussion group I belong to), but I'm glad I was forced to read this one.  It definitely escapes the boundaries of most fantasy today.  While it isn't obtrusive, she also provides considerable background and setting for the immigrant ghettos of late nineteenth century New York.

The first third of the novel is essentially background and preparation for the meeting between the Golem and the Jinni and their eventual conflict with Joseph Schaalman who has unpleasant plans for the two of them.  Initially, the three are not aware of the close ties that bind them, so the remaining two thirds of the novel reveals their relationship and the eventual resolution of the conflict.

Shortly after finishing the novel,  I found something interesting and had to go back to check it out.  I was thinking about the characterization of the Golem and the Jinni something seemed vaguely familiar.  I know little about the author, so I don't know what her reading habits are, but I wonder if she is familiar with the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang,  the view that the world is made of opposites which are an integral part of the world.   The following table lists attributes of the Yin-Yang dichotomy and the characteristics of the Golem and the Jinni.

Yin--the Golem                                   Yang--the Jinni   
feminine                                               masculine
dark                                                      light
cold                                                      hot
moist                                                    dry
passive                                                  aggressive
slow                                                      fast
soft                                                       hard
earth                                                     sun
rest                                                       motion

Throughout the book, the Golem and the Jinni are described or depicted in the ways listed above.  She is created from clay while the Jinni is fire, although the spell he is under forces him to remain in the shape of a human.  She is described as having dark hair and is sometimes referred to as the dark lady, while he is always depicted as light and those with special sensitivity see his face as beaming light.   They have been in New York City for about the same  length of time and while she has barely stirred from her apartment to go only a few blocks to work, he has spent his off hours exploring much of the city.  Both have jobs: she works in a bakery while he works for a metalsmith. 

Overall Rating:  an interesting read about two legendary characters who do not get much attention today.  I will be interested to discover what her next novel will be about. 


  1. Sounds interesting. I'm not a fan of fantasy, either, but this one sounds a little different. Thanks for your review!

  2. Cheryl,

    Yes, this one is a bit different. The Golem and the Jinni do act within their limitations and don't turn out to be superheroes.