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The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni

4.5 123
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


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

Library Journal
In 1899 two very different creatures find themselves in New York City. Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay and brought to life by a Polish magician to be the perfect wife. Ahmed is a jinni, a being made of fire, who has been released from a flask he's been bound in for centuries. Forming an unexpected friendship, Chava and Ahmed must learn how to survive undetected while preparing to battle a dangerous adversary. First-time novelist Wecker introduces readers to an immigrant community of kindly rabbis, skillful tinsmiths, and possessed ice cream venders that serves as an excellent backdrop for the debates between Chava and Ahmed about the use of power and the meaning of freedom. VERDICT Full of quirky characters and philosophical and religious musings, this fascinating blend of historical fiction and Jewish and Arab folklore excels when it comes to its gorgeous descriptions and the intriguing flashbacks to the jinni's earlier life, but it lacks some relationship development to ground Chava and Ahmed's romance. Overall this original and fresh story will attract fans of historical fantasy or folktales. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/12.]—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
The New York Times - Patricia Cohen
The senses of permanent loss and dislocation that at times overwhelm the Golem and the Jinni are an inevitable part of the immigrant experience. Drawing on her own Jewish upbringing and her husband's Arab-American culture, Ms. Wecker gives these now nearly universal feelings a particular flavor. And this impressive first novel manages to combine the narrative magic of The Arabian Nights with the kind of emotional depth, philosophical seriousness and good, old-fashioned storytelling found in the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Family Circle Magazine
“Magical thinking comes alive in an enchanting allegory of the immigrant experience as two mythical beings try to make sense of themselves and the world around them.”
“THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.”
Christian Science Monitor
“It sounds like the setup for a really strange joke: “A golem and a jinni walk into a bakery in early 19th-century New York....” But this debut novel—part fantastic tale, part historical fiction—is one of the most highly anticipated fiction releases of the spring.”
“…the most exciting fantasy debut since Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORELL. Helene Wecker must be a born writer; there is no other way to account for the quality of her prose, as phenomenal as any of the supernatural wonders she delivers in the glorious THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI…”
USA Today
“In the best instances, you don’t merely read a book—you dive in and happily immerse yourself, forgetting the troubles of daily life for a while. The Golem and the Jinni offers just such an absorbing experience. ”
Dallas Morning News
“One of the joys of the novel is in watching two strangers develop a relationship that, while it’s rooted in their shared magical natures, echoes the way ordinary humans can form bonds starting with a random encounter on a busy street.”
Entertainment Weekly
“An intoxicating fusion of fantasy and historical fiction…Wecker’s storytelling skills dazzle…The book’s magic, filtered through the old-time hustle and bustle of the Lower East Side, lingers long after the final page.” EW Grade: A
New York Daily News
“The tale is meant to be magical, and it is, but Wecker’s real sleight of pen is recreating Manhattan as it was then. She has a historian’s grasp of detail and a novelist’s flair.”
Patricia Cohen
“The author makes you care enough about the humanity of these magical spirits to not only see them through to the end but also to regret that you’ve reached the last page.”
San Francisco magazine
“A dazzling debut…You’ll be hooked by the vivid interplay of historical fiction, magical fable, and philosophical musing and the colorful supporting cast…Read it in one long, guilt-free gulp (it’s serious literature!).”
Jane Ciabattari
“Wecker maintains her novel’s originality as she orchestrates a satisfying and unpredictable ending. The Golem and the Jinni is a continuous delight — provocative, atmospheric, and superbly paced. ”
New York Times Book Review
“History, magic and religion braid together in old New York’s tenements…The interplay of loyalties and the struggle to assert reason over emotion keep the pages flipping.”
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.”
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.”
“The premise is so fresh...A mystical and highly original stroll through the sidewalks of New York.”
New York Journal of Books
“THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.”
Chris Bohjalian
“An inventive and utterly lovely story…The golem and the jinni…are among my favorite fictional people I spent time with this spring…Wecker is a gifted new voice…I’m glad that her talents have been set free in this novel.”
Author Magazine
“A beautifully written historical novel with the added spice of the supernatural to make it unputdownable…The novel comes alive with its vivid portrayal of the humor, warmth, and struggle of life in the everyday Lower East Side. The book’s reality is just as captivating as its fantasy.”
Jewish Daily Forward
“Her story is so inventive, so elegantly written, so well-constructed, it is hard to believe that it is her first novel…The books is so good that I wonder if there was some other-worldly power involved in its creation.”
Paul Di Filippo
“Masterful…utterly unique and enchanting…Very few debut novels exhibit the charm, assurance, emotional depth and bravura fabulation which the lucky reader will discover in The Golem and the Jinni.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Inventive, elegantly written and well-constructed…It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. Clearly, otherworldly forces were involved…the story is so complex and intricately woven that it does not lend itself to summary. It would be like pulling threads from a finely crafted garment to describe the whole.”
Kirkus Reviews
Can't we all just get along? Perhaps yes, if we're supernatural beings from one side or another of the Jewish-Arab divide. In her debut novel, Wecker begins with a juicy premise: At the dawn of the 20th century, the shtetls of Europe and half of "Greater Syria" are emptying out, their residents bound for New York or Chicago or Detroit. One aspirant, "a Prussian Jew from Konin, a bustling town to the south of Danzig," is an unpleasant sort, a bit of a bully, arrogant, unattractive, but with enough loose gelt in his pocket to commission a rabbi-without-a-portfolio to build him an idol with feet of clay--and everything else of clay, too. The rabbi, Shaalman, warns that the ensuing golem--in Wecker's tale, The Golem--is meant to be a slave and "not for the pleasures of a bed," but he creates her anyway. She lands in Manhattan with less destructive force than Godzilla hit Tokyo, but even so, she cuts a strange figure. So does Ahmad, another slave bottled up--literally--and shipped across the water to a New York slum called Little Syria, where a lucky Lebanese tinsmith named Boutros Arbeely rubs a magic flask in just the right way and--shazam!--the jinni (genie) appears. Ahmad is generally ticked off by events, while The Golem is burdened with the "instinct to be of use." Naturally, their paths cross, the most unnatural of the unnaturalized citizens of Lower Manhattan--and great adventures ensue, for Shaalman is in the wings, as is a shadowy character who means no good when he catches wind of the supernatural powers to be harnessed. Wecker takes the premise and runs with it, and though her story runs on too long for what is in essence a fairy tale, she writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land. Two lessons: Don't discount a woman just because she's made of clay, and consider your wishes carefully should you find that magic lamp.

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Read an Excerpt

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.
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Meet the Author

Helene Wecker received a BA from Carleton College in Minnesota and an MFA from Columbia University in New York. A Chicago-area native who has made her home in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, she now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.

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