Book group met last night to discuss The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Add this to the list of books I never would have picked up if it hadn't been assigned. I thought it would be too much in the sci-fi/fantasy realm—not a realm I am fond of—but in fact it was more magical and just plain interesting.
In some ways it's just your average novel about immigrant life in New York City at the turn of the last century. But what makes it different is that the two main characters are not human. Chava is a golem, a manmade clay creature brought to life to serve one master. Here's the official definition of golem: "In Jewish folklore, an image that comes to life. From the Middle Ages stories were told of wise men who could bring clay effigies to life by means of magic charms or sacred words." Ahmed, on the other hand, is a jinni. (Scrabble players will recognize that as an alternative spelling of genie; djinni, djinn(s), djin(s), jinni, jinn(s), and jin(s) are all good Scrabble words to keep in mind if you have a J on your rack!) And what's a jinni? "In Arabic mythology, any of the supernatural spirits less powerful than angels or devils. Evil spirits of air or fire, they could take animal or human form and could dwell in inanimate objects or under the earth."
So, yeah, not your run-of-the-mill historical novel right off the bat. But it's a credit to Wecker that it reads like one, as long as you remind yourself every now and then that the main characters aren't human.
Everyone in the group really liked the book (well, one a little less than the rest of us). It was a bit too long but always interesting and suspenseful, as Chava and Ahmed make their way in their new lives while trying not to be found out by the humans around them. They also don't realize that there is an evil threat looming over them from some mystical black magic that has fallen into the wrong hands.
Even if you don't think you like fantasy novels, I urge you to give this one a try. It's really well written and endlessly fascinating and unlike anything I've ever read before.
Next month we are doing Mary Coin by Marisa Silver.