The Golem and the Jinni

Written by Helene Wecker
Review by Richard Bourgeois

All the world is coming to New York City in 1899, and they are bringing a part of the Old Country with them—some more than others. A Prussian Jew who could not be bothered to woo a wife has had one made to order, a Golem in the form of a woman. Her master’s unexpected death sets this dangerous and uncontrollable being of animated clay loose on the Lower East Side. An elderly rabbi is the only one to recognize her true nature, but, moved by pity, he cannot bring himself to speak the formula that will destroy her. Meanwhile the Jinni, a spirit of fire, has come to Manhattan’s Little Syria trapped in a flask of olive oil. Arbeely the metalsmith frees him from the bottle but cannot undo the curse that keeps him in human form. A chance meeting between Golem and Jinni begins a relationship that is more alliance than friendship. But their fates are more closely linked than first appears, and in the end they must rely on one another to become truly free.

Wecker’s view of old New York and its teeming immigrant culture is as immersive as it is delightful. As a fantasy it works brilliantly, the supernatural elements bringing unique insight to a classic question: to become American (whatever that means) or keep to the old ways? To pass for human (whatever that means), or transcend humanity? A strong debut, and highly recommended.