An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, The Golem and the Jinni tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. One is a golem, created out of clay to be her master’s wife—but he dies at sea, leaving her disoriented and overwhelmed as their ship arrives in New York Harbor. The other is a jinni, a being of fire, trapped for a thousand years in a copper flask before a tinsmith in Manhattan’s Little Syria releases him.
Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.
And then, one cold and windy night, their paths happen to meet.
While I was first drawn to this book by the cover – which is beautiful and very different from the current trends in book cover designs – the combination of historical fiction, folklore, romance, and supernatural elements kept my attention throughout its ~500 pages.
Wonderfully crafted characters, lush (but not flowery) prose, and the realistic way in which the supernatural elements were presented showed a mature writing style that is rarely seen in a debut novel. The storyline is enhanced by philosophical questions about identity, hope, humanity and free will to create an insightful, moving read that is reminiscent of a fairytale.