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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Helene Wecker is quite the literary matchmaker for The Golem and the Jinni

Helene Wecker's debut novel,The Golem and the Jinni,has two creatures of  different mythical lore making their unlikely meeting in a city well known for unusual encounters,New York. The year is 1899 and a golem,who was made in the form of a woman for an European immigrate to be his bride in America,arrives alone as her would-be husband dies aboard ship.

Due to her golem powers,she is able to sense the needs and desires of everyone around her but without being bound to a master,making her way in this world seems impossible. One man,Rabbi Meyer, out of the many in this strange new city is able to see what she truly is and offers her guidance.

The Golem is given the name Chava and finds a job in a local bakery,where her limitless energy has a suitable outlet. Rabbi Meyer's assistance is beneficial to her as well as him,yet he has lingering doubts about how long she can control her true nature.

Since Chava was given curiosity and intelligence as part of her persona,her restless spirit is even more challenged by the need to conform to the standards expected of her as both a human and a widow living on her own. Finding tasks to fill up the long hours of the night(she has no need for sleep),Chava does her best to maintain a stable life yet begins to dread the night and wonders if she should continue onward with her existence:


Meanwhile, Arbeely, a tinsmith in the section of the city called Little Syria,is incredibly surprised one day as he starts to repair a copper flask and releases a jinni from his long term captivity.

The Jinni has no recollection of how he was imprisoned,only recalling being bound to human form by a wizard via an iron manacle that he can't remove. He takes the name Ahmad and goes to work for Arbeely,using what magic he has left to not only increase the productivity of the tinsmith's shop but to fashion items out of gold and silver with only his two amazingly heated hands.

Ahmad fills his restless nights by exploring the city and while he enjoys discovering the wonders of this new land,part of him longs to be truly free from all of the confines imposed on him by the human world:

 Chava and Ahmad run into each other by chance,one fateful evening,realizing that neither one of them is mortal yet not understanding what the other being is. They soon strike up a friendship,with Ahmad showing Chava the sights of the city that he has enjoyed alone and which are becoming fresh and new to him through the eyes of his companion.

Chava is happy to have someone else to confine in,as well as getting to explore more of the city with an escort that will draw any suspicious notice of her away from unwanted observers. The two of them tend to debate the boundaries set before them as supernatural beings ,plus the moral restrictions of the mortal world that humans(particularly in Ahmad's view) seem determined to be ruled by:

Their relationship is complex enough without outside interference,yet forces begin to array against them. The central figure that threatens their safety is Chava's creator,an unscrupulous mystic whose obsession with achieving immortality drives him to America to see what has become of his most unique golem.

Despite the differences that encourage them to part company for a time,Chava and Ahmad wind up having to find a way to protect each other(as well as those around them)from the mutual threat facing them both,even at the cost of what they cherish most,the chance for true freedom.

Helene Wecker spins a golden tapestry of story telling within these pages,blending historical fiction with fantasy fare(plus a touch of philosophy) with incredible ease. Weaving together two diverse cultures in such a suitable setting as New York,with both the human and supernatural characters equally as engaging,she casts a literary spell that kept me up until the wee small hours of the morning to complete this marvelous book.

I highly doubt that I will be the only reader enchanted by this innovative novel that expands the borders of  these well worn genres and breaks new ground for others to follow. Granted,this book is not out until late April and we have yet a ways to go with new books this year,however I feel in my bones that The Golem and the Jinni will be high on many lists of Best Books of 2013.

 The release date for TGATJ is April 23,which happens to be a couple of days before my birthday and I could get no better early present than this captivating look at the nature of humanity and the bonds of true friendship through a pair of most unlikely soul mates. If you're looking for a literary treat this spring, this is the one to put in your book basket:

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