THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker

Now this was certainly a fun read, combining the golem myth with the jinni (or geni) myth in what turns out to be Love, Actually.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale. “

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are lots of fascinating and lovable human characters populating the tale, and although this is fantasy/fable/magical realism/sorta historical fiction, it is also a ripping tale, as our British counterparts might say, and is a page turner of the first water.  Loved it.  LOVED it.

Some definitions for you.

‘of the first water’.  Ever wondered where that expression came from?  Wonder no more.  Of course you already know it means of the finest quality, as in That was a play of the first water . This idiom refers to a grading system for diamonds for their color or luster (compared to the shininess of water). The system is no longer used but the term, used figuratively since the early 1800s, has survived it.

Golem – In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.  The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. There are many tales differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled. According to Moment Magazine, “the golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman—or sometimes both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope and despair.”

Jinni – as in I Dreamed Of  —  Jinni, plural jinn, also called genie, Arabic jinnī, in Arabic mythology, a supernatural spirit below the level of angels and devils. Ghūl (treacherous spirits of changing shape), ʿifrīt (diabolic, evil spirits), and siʿlā (treacherous spirits of invariable form) constitute classes of jinn. Jinn are beings of flame or air who are capable of assuming human or animal form and are said to dwell in all conceivable inanimate objects—stones, trees, ruins—underneath the earth, in the air, and in fire. They possess the bodily needs of human beings and can even be killed, but they are free from all physical restraints. Jinn delight in punishing humans for any harm done them, intentionally or unintentionally, and are said to be responsible for many diseases and all kinds of accidents; however, those human beings knowing the proper magical procedure can exploit the jinn to their advantage.

Belief in jinn was common in early Arabia, where they were thought to inspire poets and soothsayers. Even Muhammad originally feared that his revelations might be the work of jinn. Their existence was further acknowledged in official Islam, which indicated that they, like human beings, would have to face eventual salvation or damnation.

Now, go forth and amaze your friends and enemies with your erudition.

What makes this story so fun is that it is highly unusual to have a golem and a jinni in the same tale becauze they come from different cultures and myths.

Apparently there is a sequel.  See ya later  – I am off to locate a copy.

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