In the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, Chava is a Golem, a creature created from clay, and Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire-based creature (or a genie). The tagline for the story describes “two misplaced magical beings on a journey through turn-of-the-century New York.” Chava has been created as a wife for a strange and lonely misfit who decides to bring her with him from Poland to New York. He dies while onboard ship and she is left without a master. Ahmad has been imprisoned for thousands of years in a flask, and he is accidentally freed by a tinsmith trying to repair the flask. There is also an evil character in the book, and both Chava and Ahmad must work together against this character to survive.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. I selected it for my book club to read this month based on reviews that I read. Since I chose it, I feel like I should like the book. Did I like it? Yes and no. It was very different. I like stories that show a lot of imagination and make you think. This story definitely had and did that. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, though. It was very readable, and the pages went by quickly. I did feel at times like it was taking forever to finish it, and at times it seemed like a chore to get through it. I’m not sure I liked the main characters. At first I felt sorry for Chava, but when she showed her true nature a few times in the story, I found her frightening and did not like her much at all. I never connected with her character. Ahmad’s true nature made him careless, dangerous and selfish. I did grow to like his character more as the story went on.
I didn’t like that the author called the characters “the Golem” and “the Jinni” throughout the book. That aspect only served to remind me that they weren’t human, and I think that was her intent. It seemed that at some point she should have transitioned to calling them by their names. The characters are only called by their names by other characters in the book. Chava was given her name by her friend, the Rabbi. He finds her wandering the city, and recognizing her for what she is, he befriends her and helps her. Ahmad was given his name by Arbeely, the tinsmith who frees him from the flask. It is mentioned several times that he already has a name, but it is never given, and he decides to go by “Ahmad” – a name that he says he dislikes. I thought that was odd and kept wondering what his real name was.
Although the characters resembled humans, they did not always behave in a human-like manner. In the questions and answers section at the back of my Kindle version, Helene Wecker mentions Chava being like Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek. Unlike Chava, I never found Data to be frightening. He was always child-like and endearing in a way. I didn’t feel that way about Chava. There was always this dangerous, ominous part of her. She was made to protect and care for her master, and she was dangerous if she thought someone was being harmed.
I applaud the author’s attention to detail and the time she spent on her research. It took her seven years to research and write this novel. I found parts of it confusing especially when she jumped from one character’s viewpoint to another or jumped around in the timeline. Overall, I am glad that I read the book. I am left, however, with the feeling of “what did I just read?”