What would happen if a golem and a jinni (genie) found their way to turn-of-the-20th-century New York City? That’s the question at the heart of Helen Wecker’s lovely novel, The Golem and the Jinni.
I came across this book thanks to Glen Weldon of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast–a personal favorite. Like him, I like that Wecker doesn’t make an allegory out of these mythical characters, nor does she lapse into the haziness of magical realism (not that I object to that genre). The golem and the jinni just exist in this world, without a lot of dreary explanations as to how.
The book is lush and slow. I don’t mean that it’s boring. I mean that it’s quiet–it’s not one I want to take in large gulps. I want to skim it quickly because I’m curious what happens to these two creatures, but the world Wecker describes is so rich, I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m in my first renewal cycle at the library and hope to finish it before I’m forced to turn it in.
Golems are beings formed from clay, created to be slaves, but the master of the golem in this story dies early on, so she finds herself trying to find her way on her own, aware that if her identity is discovered, she will be in great danger. Meanwhile, she hears the desires of everyone around her, and in the absence of a master, these yearnings claw at her constantly.
As for the jinni, he is sprung from a lamp early in the story, but has no recollection of how he got there or who bested him and imprisoned him in the first place.
It’s not a heavy handed book, but I did appreciate the wisdom in this exchange. Here the jinni is talking to the golem about the tinsmith who took him in and gave him a job:
The jinni sighed. “I’m less grateful to him than I should be. He’s a good and generous man, but I’m not accustomed to relying on someone else. It makes me feel weak.
“How is relying on others a weakness?”
“How can it be anything else? If for some reason Arbeely died tomorrow, I’d be forced to find another occupation. The event would be outside my control, yet I’d be at its mercy. Is that not weakness?”
“I suppose. But then, going by your standard, everyone is weak. So why call it a weakness, instead of just the way things are?”
We are not in control. And we are bound to one another, no?
What are you reading right now?