The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

0007480172.02.LZZZZZZZThis was recommended on one of the Incomparable podcasts, I think. I picked it up after giving up on radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. It has taken me a long time to read, but not because I haven’t been enjoying it.

The premise is fascinating: what if two mythical creatures from two middle-eastern traditions should meet? Where would such a meeting take place? Why, of course, in the melting pot of New York City in the late 19th Century.

So here we have a story of immigration and assimilation, and the curious melding of cultures that took place at the height of mass migration. One by one, our characters make their way to New York. The djinni, naturally, arrives in a brass vessel in need of some repair. The golem is created on behalf of a man who wants a good wife to take with him to the New World. Impatient (and sick), he speaks the spell to wake her on the voyage over and then promptly dies, leaving her without a master. (A great metaphor for how some people come unstuck from their traditions in the transformation from one national identity to another.)

The djinni is trapped in human form; the golem does not sleep. Both have to adapt to a new way of life; both feel restless and hungry for something more. Inevitably, they meet. In seeking solutions for their various problems, they both create greater challenges and events spin out of their control. There are many intertwined sub-plots based around other characters who have in some way crossed paths with these magical entities. As such, the main plot moves slowly at times, and – considered on its own – is relatively slight. If there’s a fault here it’s that an awful lot of back story gets delivered by telling rather than showing, as information dumps – though these aren’t all at the beginning, at least. Still, it’s a shame that some plot mysteries are delivered in this way rather than being revealed by action.

Worth a read, though, and a fascinating and original premise.

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