Monday, October 21, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Two mythological creatures meet in 19th-century New York City. Knowing that much was enough to make me want to read The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. As a bonus, it has a beautiful dust jacket with gold filagree embellishments and an atmospheric photo of the Washington arch in New York, plus dark blue edging on three (unbound) sides of the pages. It has the look and feel of a precious manuscript.

The female golem wasn't entirely convincing as one of her kind, made of clay. She found "to lie still and silent in such an enclosed space was no easy task" and complained (about reading): "It's hard to sit still for so long." I understand that she was created to be a thing of action, but her immobility should be equally effortless, don't you think? Am I being unreasonable in my desire for a believable fantasy creature?

The golem and the jinni discuss philosophical questions like: are we good at heart? is there a god? and independence vs. mutual interdependence.

The Golem said, "I read about angels, once. In one of the Rabbi's books." She glanced at him. "You don't believe in them, I suppose."
"No, I don't," he said. He thought she might be waiting for him to return the question; but he didn't want to talk about angels, or gods, or whatever else the humans had invented that week."
----- [...] -----
"God is a human invention. My kind have no such belief. And nothing I've experienced suggests there's an all-powerful ghost in the sky, answering wishes. [...] So perhaps this God of the humans is just a jinni like myself, stuck in the heavens, forced to answer wishes. Or maybe he freed himself long ago, only no one told them."
[Golem]: "So, it's just stories now. And perhaps the humans did create their God. But does that make him less real? Take this arch. They created it. Now it exists."
"Yes, but it doesn't grant wishes, he said. "It doesn't do anything."
"True," she said. "But I look at it, and I feel a certain way. Maybe that's its purpose."
The plot kept me turning pages but conversations like the example above made me wince a little. The book wasn't entirely disappointing, but I had hoped to enjoy it more.

Readalikes: Sailor Twain (Mark Siegel); Cairo (G. Willow Wilson); The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey); The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope (Rhonda Riley); and the Bartimaeus books (Jonathan Stroud).

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