The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni

4.5 119
by Helene Wecker

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In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to 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

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In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to 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.

Editorial Reviews

Very few debut novels exhibit the charm, assurance, emotional depth and bravura fabulation that the lucky reader will discover in Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni. Like some agreeable conflation of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mark Helprin, and the anonymous compiler of One Thousand and One Nights, Wecker delivers an ambitious yet gracefully humble novel featuring the best of classic European and Middle Eastern fancies, reimagined and re-embedded in a vivid New World milieu, at once numinously odd and groundedly naturalistic. The result is utterly unique and enchanting. Perhaps the famous debut of Susannah Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, might be the last occasion for such rejoicing at a new voice in the genre and beyond.

We begin with two separate narrative strands, vastly intriguing on their individual merits, that meet about a third of the way through the book, tangling in unforeseeable yet resonantly inevitable ways.

First, the golem's tale.

In Prussia, a lonely and lazy bachelor, Rotfeld, pays a large sum to a dissolute Kabbalist magician, Yehudah Schaalman, to construct a golem that will serve Rotfeld as wife. Setting out for a fresh start in America, Rotfeld, tempted while en route, awakens his crated bride, who, thanks to subsequent circumstances, reaches the New World alone, friendless, naive and helpless. In New York, she finds a kindly mentor and receives her name: Chava. Her existence becomes a somewhat tortured labyrinth, not totally without bright spots, wherein she must learn her own nature, human nature, and the uneasy accommodations between those realms.

At the same time we meet Boutrous Arbeely, already resident in the city, where he makes a living as a poor tinsmith among the immigrants of Little Syria. One day Arbeely takes up the chore of fixing an antediluvian copper jug. He effaces an engraved symbol on its surface, and is rewarded with the manifestation of a jinni. But Ahmad the jinni, as he will be christened, is a spirit still constrained in human form by the remnants of his binding spells. He retains very few of his innate occult powers save for some above average physicality and the ability to melt and shape metals, part and parcel of his magma-like constitution. With a deep, significant past (he had lived two hundred years prior to imprisonment) and a disdain for humans, Ahmad must chart his own uneasy path analogous to Chava's. When they eventually meet, their differences will alternately war with and complement their similarities, as they move, two unique elemental creatures, through Victorian New York. Ancient karma from Ahmad's past will eventually enwrap them in mingled tragedy and triumph.

Wecker's own triumphs in this book are manifold, and it's difficult to know where to begin to array them.

First off, on the sheerest surface level, the book can be read like a fine historical romance. The immigrant communities and the plights of all new citizens; the ambiance of Victorian Manhattan; blooming and dying love affairs and businesses; aspirations and fears: All these regular constituents of such books are vividly deployed in a very satisfying manner. And because Chava and Ahmad must live, against their natures, in a mimicking human manner, the reader can, if one so desires, almost forget their supernatural birthrights. And a large supporting cast of colorfully limned real humans, several of whom play important roles in the plot, conduces to this naturalistic reading.

But of course the woman of clay and man of fire are too essentially supernatural for this mental trick of interpretation to last long or matter at all. I use it only to highlight the solid realistic underpinnings of the tale. Wecker's main job, expertly done, has been to inhabit the outré minds of Chava and Ahmad so intensely, with the plot hinging so centrally on their fantastical souls, that readers will be eagerly anticipating the revelation of all uncanny facets of their characters. There are many great set pieces here where the two human- like creatures perform wonders and horrors.

Wecker is very careful not to ennoble or diminish the essential integrity and quirkiness of Ahmad and Chava. They emerge as blends of goodness and selfishness, wisdom and blindness. That said, each one represents a certain iconic stance, and Wecker plays off this antithesis brilliantly. Chava is angelic and Ahamad demonic. She is giving and loving, he is self-centered and dismissive. She is humble and he's a braggart. She deals with organic things, he with inanimate. She's Northern, he's Southern. And yet, despite their "owl and the pussycat" relationship, they find common ground in many things, not the least being artistry and passion. We believe in both the sparks and the sympathies that arise between them.

Any aficionado of fantasy fiction will find many striking tropes sophisticatedly alluded to by Wecker. In a sense, Chava is the Cowardly Lion, looking for courage, unknowing of her own strength; while Ahmad is the Tin Man — literally! — looking for a heart. Echoes of Faust arise in the relationship between Ahmad and Arbeely. Yehudah Schaalman's arrival in New York strikes notes of both Nosferatu and the Wandering Jew. Chava's eventual New World marriage recalls fairy tales about husbands whose happiness relies on never questioning their odd bride. And so forth, for a density of imaginative affect.ã Wecker's longish novel allows itself the leisure to really build its story, but she pulls out all the stops in the climax (which I would gauge to be the entire final hundred pages!) Everything simultaneously falls apart and blows up for Ahmad and Chava, in roughly one suspenseful day or so. Wecker's guiding hand never falters for a moment, and the coda is superbly rewarding, for us and the characters.

Whatever we see from Wecker's subsequent books, her opening move has been masterful.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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HarperCollins Publishers
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6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)

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The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Helene Wecker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-211083-1

* 1 *
The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was
1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York.
The Golem's master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her
aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.
Rotfeld was a Prussian Jew from Konin, a bustling town to the
south of Danzig. The only son of a well- to- do furniture maker, Rotfeld
had inherited the family business sooner than expected, on his parents'
untimely death from scarlet fever. But Rotfeld was an arrogant, feckless
sort of man, with no good sense to speak of; and before five years had
elapsed, the business lay before him in tatters.
Rotfeld stood in the ruins and took stock. He was thirty- three years
old. He wanted a wife, and he wanted to go to America.
The wife was the larger problem. On top of his arrogant disposi-
tion, Rotfeld was gangly and unattractive, and had a tendency to leer.
Women were disinclined to be alone with him. A few matchmakers had
approached him when he'd inherited, but their clients had been from
inferior families, and he'd turned them away. When it became clear to
all what kind of businessman he really was, the offers had disappeared
Rotfeld was arrogant, but he was also lonely. He'd had no real love
affairs. He passed worthy ladies on the street, and saw the distaste in
their eyes.
It wasn't very long before he thought to visit old Yehudah Schaal-
Stories abounded about Schaalman, all slightly different: that he was
a disgraced rabbi who'd been driven out of his congregation; that he'd been
possessed by a dybbuk and given supernatural powers; and even that he
was over a hundred years old and slept with demon- women. But all the

stories agreed on this: Schaalman liked to dabble in the more dangerous
of the Kabbalistic arts, and he was willing to offer his ser vices for a price.
Barren women had visited him in the dead of night and conceived soon
after. Peasant girls in search of men's affections bought Schaalman's bags of
powders, and then stirred them into their beloveds' beer.
But Rotfeld wanted no spells or love- potions. He had something else
in mind.
He went to the old man's dilapidated shack, deep in the forest that
bordered Konin. The path to the front door was a half- trampled trail.
Greasy, yellowish smoke drifted from a chimney- pipe, the only sign of
habitation. The walls of the shack slouched toward a nearby ravine, in
which a stream trickled.
Rotfeld knocked on the door, and waited. After some minutes, he
heard a shuffling step. The door opened a hand's width, revealing a man
of perhaps seventy. He was bald, save for a fringe. His cheeks were deeply
furrowed above a tangled beard. He stared hard at Rotfeld, as though
daring him to speak.
“Are you Schaalman?” Rotfeld asked.
No answer, only the stare.
Rotfeld cleared his throat, nervous. “I want you to make me a golem
that can pass for human,” he said. “And I want it to be female.”
That broke the old man's silence. He laughed, a hard bark. “Boy,” he
said, “do you know what a golem is?”
“A person made of clay,” Rotfeld said, uncertain.
“Wrong. It's a beast of burden. A lumbering, unthinking slave.
Golems are built for protection and brute force, not for the pleasures of
a bed.”
Rotfeld reddened. “Are you saying you can't do it?”
“I'm telling you the idea is ridiculous. To make a golem that can
pass for human would be near impossible. For one thing, it would need
some amount of self- awareness, if only enough to converse. Not to men-
tion the body itself, with realistic joints, and musculature . . .”
The old man trailed off, staring past his visitor. He seemed to be
considering something. Abruptly he turned his back on Rotfeld and dis-
appeared into the gloom of the shack. Through the open door Rotfeld

could see him shuffling carefully through a stack of papers. Then he
picked up an old leather- bound book and thumbed through it. His finger
ran down a page, and he peered at something written there. He looked
up at Rotfeld.
“Come back tomorrow,” he said.
Accordingly, Rotfeld knocked again the next day, and this time
Schaalman opened the door without pause. “How much can you pay?”
he demanded.
“Then it can be done?”
“Answer my question. The one will determine the other.”
Rotfeld named a figure. The old man snorted. “Half again, at the
very least.”
“But I'll have barely anything left!”
“Consider it a bargain,” said Schaalman. “For isn't it written that
a virtuous woman is more precious than rubies? And her virtue”— he
grinned— “will be guaranteed!”
Rotfeld brought the money three days later, in a large valet case.
The edge of the nearby ravine was newly disfigured, a piece the length of
a man scooped away. An earth- stained spade leaned against a wall.
Schaalman opened the door with a distracted look, as though inter-
rupted at a crucial moment. Streaks of mud crusted his clothing and
daubed his beard. He saw the valet case and grabbed it from Rotfeld's
“Good,” he said. “Come back in a week.”
The door slammed shut again, but not before Rotfeld had caught a
glimpse inside the shack, of a dark figure laid out in pieces on a table— a
slender trunk, rough limbs, and one curled hand.
“What do you prefer in a woman?” Schaalman asked.
It was the following week, and this time Rotfeld had been allowed
inside. The shack was dominated by the table that Rotfeld had glimpsed
before, and the young man couldn't help sneaking glances at its burden: a

human- shaped form, draped with a

Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Deborah Harkness

“With a delightful blend of the prosaic and the fanciful, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI explores what it means to be human as Chava and Ahmad struggle to live and find love while overcoming the powerful adversary who threatens to destroy them.”

Tom Reiss

“From its eerie opening pages to its shattering conclusion, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is an astonishing debut novel that sweeps us into a gaslit alternate reality rich enough to get lost in.”

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The Golem and the Jinni 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 reviews.
Dieverdog More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was truly unique and I loved the characters - they were very well developed and I'm picky about that. It had a great fantasy premise that was written well enough to seem plausible. The story really drew me in and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the secondary characters were interesting and had nice depth. I also liked getting a flavor of turn of the century New York. The idea of it being in little Syria gave it a unique twist and the Jewish community was fascinating to me also. There was so much to like about this book. The writing was well crafted and had a nice pacing to it. Enough detail to bring it to life but not so much it got bogged down. The plot moved along nicely and kept me interested. Both the golem and the jinni had their flaws but that made them interesting. I really wanted to find out what would happen to them. I would thoroughly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Salman Rushdie's magical realism. I don't care for anyone else's. Until I read "The Golem And The Jinni" by Helene Welker. 1899 NewYork presented as well by anyone since Caleb Carr. Characterization, time, and place like Dickens. Not as dense as Rushdie so accessible by more readers than eggheads like myself. I usually read a book in a day or two, this one I streched out to two weeks like nibbling a great meal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unlike some who choose to give away the entire plot including the ending, I just want to say tha I love this book. The story moves along nicly without ever getting bogged down. The characters are real and to me believable. I whole heartedly recommend this novel.
Terez More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Masterfully told and beautiful. Wish i would have bought it in hard cover to keep on my bookshelf next to all the other great works of literature!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book well written, I also had this book in Audio format. The narrator is excellent and the varies voices he used for each individual characters was very well done. I highly recommend this book and or audiobook.
Twink More than 1 year ago
The Golem and The Jinni is Helen Wecker's debut novel.....and oh boy, what a debut! We're quite used to books about 'supernatural' beings - vampires, werewolves, witches and more. But Wecker's two protagonists aren't as 'famous'. Otto Rotfield wants a wife to take with him when he emigrates to America. But, he wants her to fit the mold he has imagined. To that end, he approaches a man steeped in mystery and asks him to create a Golem - a creature made entirely of clay and destined to serve its master's every command. She is a masterpiece. When Otto falls ill on the boat journey, he manages to animate the Golem before he dies. And so this creature lands in New York City in 1899, uninformed as to the ways of the world, how to behave, what to expect and how she will hide among the humans. It is her good luck that an old rabbi recognizes her for what she is - and takes her in. Not far away in Little Syria (Lower Manhattan) a local woman brings a battered copper flask to the neighbourhood metalworker for repair. When he erases one of the intricate designs that encircle the guessed it - a Jinni is released. The Jinni faces the same challenges as that of the Golem - he has been trapped in the flask for thousands of years. And chance being what it is, these two beings - one of earth and one of fire - meet, and each recognizes that the other is not of this world. Their lives are entwined in ways they could not imagine....and someone else is watching them... Oh, where to start! The setting is beautifully brought to life by Wecker. The lives of immigrants, the wealthy, the tenements, daily life, night life, attractions such as Central Park and more provide a rich and detailed background for Wecker's novel. The Golem and the Jinni are both mythical creatures, but Wecker's writing made them very real and 'human'. I found myself so caught up in their story, rooting for them and hoping they would find happiness. The supporting cast of characters is just as well drawn and equally compelling. This was such a unique and different idea for a novel. Middle Eastern mysticism mixed with Jewish folklore and dipped into New York City's rich history. And under Wecker's skillful pen, it really works. But such is the stuff of magical stories - dastardly villains, good vs. evil, sacrifice, love won and lost, fast friendships and more. And this is the feeling that Helene Wecker's novel gave me - that I was sitting in a beautiful silk tent somewhere in the desert, reclining on pillows and listening to Scheherazade spin one of her 1001 tales. I was enthralled from first page to last. Wecker has truly woven a magical debut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book, and its amazing originality!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading this great novel by Helen Wecker and found myself delighted in the rich and imaginative story telling. A great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy it!
joannegrace More than 1 year ago
This was well written and had a complex plot, and interwoven characters and events - from the past and present. Very interesting, unique story and settings - and though these mainly concerned two non-human beings (a jinni, or genie) and a "golem" - a man-made being/creature - all the human elements were contained in them and the rest of the story. Very captivating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been a long time since I have come across a book that I did not want to stop reading. This is a wondrful story that blends history, mysticism, and romance in a seamless story that crosses the ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this turn of the century fairy tail in the middle of NYC.  All of the characters and circumstances were very interesting and kept me wanting to read more.  I see one reviewer said he found the book confusing, but that might be due to the flashbacks that if you keep on reading tie everything together.  
RooMom More than 1 year ago
Stumbled upon it in the bookstore and so glad I did. Loved it!
Melisan More than 1 year ago
A thoroughly enjoyable read.  Relax, sit back, and enter a different world that exists alongside our reality.
Mz-Bwayne More than 1 year ago
Did not want this book to end!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book may be a bit overlong in places, but the characters are fascinating and timeless. I finished the book early this morning and already wish there were a sequel.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker (thanks to the Devourer of Books) which was really long but surprisingly good! We discussed it over at Devourer of Books, but I’ll give you a quickie overview here.  A golem is created by a rabbi in order to be a wife for a not-so-wonderful man.  Problem?  A golem is inherently bad, and will listen to a master. . . but can still get out of hand. A jinni (much like the genie we think of) is released from a bottle after many years, but still manacled.  Why?  How’d he get like that? Both the golem and the jinni are lucky enough to meet mentors that help guide them on their paths.  But they are both very restless creatures, and when they coincidentally meet each other, their lives change. So even though the book is super long, take a chance on it!  It’s worth the read!   Thanks for reading,   Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful, well-written story.  I found myself truly caring about these characters.
SpeedSD More than 1 year ago
EXCEPTIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!! There are times when writing a review, that I just don't know how I am going to put words down to do a book justice. This is one of those times. This is a wonderfully woven tale of magic and mystery. The author has a way with words that is absolutely amazing! I was pulled into the story from the beginning and it just got better the more I read. As the author introduced each character, I wondered how it would all pull together. Well, let me just say that it pulled together in a way that I am still in awe about. Without giving away the plot (you can read the summary on the back of the book), this is a story of love, magic, mystery, religion, and life in New York in the late 1800s to early 1900s. There is some wonderful history given on the Jewish and Christian communities living in New York at that time. Lots of history on Jewish traditions. The author does this without ever becoming too bogged down with information. I never felt like anything was dragging on. If you love a beautifully told "story", this is it. I will definitely be looking for more from this author. I cannot believe this is her first published work. It is absolutely amazing. Thanx to Ms. Wecker for taking me on this ride. I truely enjoyed myself. :~) -- SPeeD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an amaxing journey. I regret now missing the opportunity to see her at a reading/signing. The book is complex, intimately written, and colorful. I did not feel that any detail, thought, or path was unnecessary to the story. I was satisfied with the ending and its length. I am eager to read her next works and will make sure that I attend her next reading.
bbb57 More than 1 year ago
This is the best Fiction Novel I have read this year. This author has laced together exceptional characters with superb writing. This book is just plain fun to read! Can't wait for a follow up or next novel from Ms. Wacker!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read in a while! Love the mix of turn of the century NYC and these mythical creatures of legend. The book continued to surprise me, which is so refreshing given that most plots can be so predictable. I would love to read more from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I DID NOT WANT THIS NOVEL TO END. This is defintely on my top 5 best books to read. For months I avoided picking up this novel because of the premise of the story. Fantasy, Si-Fi, & Horror are not my genre, at all. However, this book is written so well and let's not forget the story is original, i will definitely purchase this author's next novel. She did a great job. Yes, I truly mean it was an original story. Again - i did not want it to end. It was that good!!
gregs More than 1 year ago
I was caught by the cover! I have been very fortunate over the many years and 100's of books that I have pulled the ink right off the pages. This book did not disappoint me! It was a slight drift from my usual reads but I can't say enough about how the ink & pages have stayed with me. I was so wonderfully pulled into the heartbeat & life of New York city and its enclaves. Ms. Wecker has given us a real gift of a read. I would have loved to be the "Tinsmith" more get the book and fall in love with the Golem & the Jinni