golem

In the turn-of-the-century New York City, a Syrian tinsmith names Arbeely is repairing a copper flask, when he unwittingly releases a jinni.  The spirit has been captive an untold number of decades, unable to enjoy the freedom he once enjoyed.  The tinsmith, stunned, takes in the wayward jinni.  He gives him a cot and the name Saleh.

In the meantime, a golem without a master walks ashore.  She can hear the thoughts of those around her, and in the tenements of Lower Manhattan there is plenty of desperation to be heard.  A wise Rabbi Meyer sees the wandering golem and invites her in to his small room, giving her the name Chava.

The two supernatural creatures are adrift in the overwhelming city.  Not only are they at the same crossroads as any other immigrant in America, they are also attempting to navigate it trapped in a human form.  The two have separate narratives that eventually meet and intermingle.  They bond over their similarities, but still struggle with how very alone in the world they are.

The Jinni walked north along Washington Street, wondering if he’d ever be truly alone again.  At times the desert had felt too empty for him, but this opposite extreme was harder to bear.  The street was no less crowded than the coffeehouse had been.  Families thronged the sidewalks, all taking advantage of the warm weekend afternoon.  And where there were not humans there were horses, a standstill parade of them, each attached to a cart, each cart carrying a man, each man yelling at the others to clear out of his way — all in a myriad of languages that the Jinni had never before heard but nonetheless comprehended, and now he was coming to resent his own seemingly inexhaustible resources of understanding.  ~Pg. 102

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They each become important members of their community, despite their insecurities.  Saleh is noted for his incredible metalsmithing skills and fine artistry.  Chava works in a Jewish bakery, kneading at superhuman speed.  They have found some purpose in their jobs, yet something is still missing.

The book alternates between narratives and is interspersed with an even more ancient story from the Jinni’s past.  In fact, this depth makes Saleh’s “side” of the story much more compelling than Chava’s.  I found his character complicated but deliciously so.  Chava was sympathetic but less interesting.

The novel also could have been about 75 pages shorter.  At times the narrative slows too much.  The lull lasts long enough for the reader to second guess himself.

The Golem and the Jinni will be a good read for a lazy summer day.

Many thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy.

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ISBN: 9780062110831
ISBN10: 0062110837
Imprint: Harper
On Sale: 4/23/2013
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 496; $26.99
Ages: 18 and Up

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