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The Golem and the Jinni    by Helene Wecker order for
Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's something good and different - Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni, a literary fantasy set in 1899 New York City. Both these mythological creatures are almost accidentally (and separately) set adrift in the city and must learn to fit in with humans while hiding their true natures. Of course they eventually meet each other, and an ancient enemy also tracks them down.

The Golem is made because Prussian Jew Otto Rotfeld wants an obedient (yet curious and intelligent) wife to take to America with him. He asks old Yehudah Schaalman to make him a golem that can pass for human. The old man does what he asks but warns him, 'No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.' He equips Rotfeld with the means to do so, giving him a paper in an oilskin envelope with commands to both bring her to life and to destroy her. Ill on the journey, Rotfeld brings the Golem to life. When he dies of appendicitis, it's assumed that she is his wife. Masterless, the very young Golem continues to New York.

In Little Syria, near where the Golem lands, tinsmith Boutros Arbeely takes damaged scrollwork off an old flask, only to free the Jinni, imprisoned in it for centuries by a wizard. Though released from the flask, the Jinni is still trapped in human form by a metal cuff on his wrist. He finds himself in a very strange place, so different from 'the familiar steppes and plateaus of the Syrian Desert, his home for close to two hundred years.' Gradually the Jinni's back story is revealed, the author moving readers back and forth in time. Though there are conflicts and misunderstandings, Boutros befriends the Jinni and gives him work.

The Golem also finds help. Rabbi Avram Meyer knows what she is but takes her in and mentors her. He finds the envelope labelled Commands for the Golem and wonders what he should do about her, and whether or not she has a soul. In the meantime he calls her Chava and finds her work at a bakery. Chava eventually encounters the Jinni and, though they view the world very differently, they wander the city together and a friendship grows between them. While this develops, Schaalman learns what happened to Rotfeld and he too journeys to New York.

Helene Wecker masterfully knots all these threads together into a vibrant novel in which the very young Golem comes of age, the much older Jinni seeks redemption, and both affect all the lives they touch upon in many different ways. The Golem and the Jinni is unusual and gripping, highly recommended!

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