Some book are more than they seem and better than can be described. This is the case with Helene Wecker’s debut novel, the Golem and the Jinni.
A disgraced Rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic creates a golem for a client who wants a servile but intelligent wife without the effort of actually meeting and being kind enough to somebody to get married. The client dies on the boat on the way to America just moments after waking the golem and she finds herself without a master in New York in 1899. She meets an elderly Rabbi and he names her Chava and teaches her how to fit in and how to hide her nature as a golem. She doesn’t need to eat or sleep and she can sense what people want without even trying.
A Bedouin wizard, centuries before, trapped a jinni inside a copper flask and he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in lower Manhattan. He gives the jinni the name Ahmad and teaches him to work the tin in his shop, taking him in as an apprentice. Ahmad is freed from the flask but an unbreakable iron band around his wrist keeps him tied to his physical shape.
Eventually the two meet and become friends the kind of which most people can only hope to find.
The resulting story is probably the most fascinating one that I have read in many years. Chava and Ahmad are very different people and they approach the world in very different ways. On top of that there are dozens of other interesting characters that populate the pages of this book. This is a story about people who are struggling to fit in to the world that is strange and wonderful. It is about mistakes and finding your way past them. It is about life and choices and death.
The whole is beautiful. Helene Wecker spent a great deal of time on the prose of this book and the result is marvelous. Every page, every word is intricately selected to bring the meaning that is needed to every scene. Every scene, however trivial, tumbles about and comes back again in a fascinating circle of events that make the story powerful and satisfying on many levels.
Add to the beautiful writing and emotionally powerful and fascinating story the fact that so much of it is based on Jewish and Islamic mythology — something I had not seen before in fantasy fiction (beyond the occasional golem monster and the genie from Aladdin) this book is fresh and powerful and should be read by everybody.
Helene Wecker has written a classic of fantasy of literature that shines with surpassing beauty.