Hey, America! You’ve got two brand new immigrants. Not your ordinary immigrants either. These two are special. They did not arrive in the usual ways and they’re pretty unusal themselves. One is hundreds of years old, and one is just days.
These two new arrivals appear separately within days of each other in turn of the 20th century New York City. The Golem was created as a wife for a lonely Jewish immigrant. He had some specific requirements when he set out to have his new wife made for him. However, he never got to enjoy her company as he promptly died after waking her. Now she’s masterless in a strange city crowded with the needs and wants of humanity.
In Little Syria, a tinsmith accidently awakens an ancient creature trapped in a bottle for hundreds of years. The Jinni is bound to human form by an iron bracelet and must try to pass as a real human being while living in New York. All he wishes for is to be free and swirling about the desert in his true form.
The Golem and the Jinni isn’t just a modern fairy tale but a story of immigration. The Golem and the Jinni suffer from an extreme culture shock. They aren’t just trying to navigate a new city and new cultures, but hiding their natures from human beings. Discovery is a constant worry; the consequences would be terrible. It is a relief to them both when they discover each other and can finally be themselves. Still, they don’t always understand each other which provides lots of conflict. Their relationships with the humans who try to help them fit in aren’t easy either.
The Golem and the Jinni is a debut novel and it took Helene Wecker years to write it. It’s carefully crafted and well researched but the first half lagged for me. The action was slow and it felt padded with detail. It isn’t until after the halfway mark that the plot comes together, and connections become clearer and make sense. It took me a long time to get through it, even though I thought I was always reading it.
Wecker does paint a vivid picture of old New York and the different immigrant communities. I was impressed with how she weaved the ancient myths into the somewhat modern setting. She manages to create human characteristics for these creatures while still maintaining their otherness. Remembering that they aren’t humans helped me not get frustrated with them, especially when the Jinni acted like a dick- which was often.
Even though it felt at times like the slowest story ever told, I did end up liking it.