The Golem and the Djinni
By Helene Wecker
This first novel by Helene Wecker is not the run of the mill story of two strangers coming together. It has been suggested by some reviewers that this is to its detriment; that the story is lost in the mystical/ fantastic elements placed against the mundane and ordinary world. This is unfair.
This novel is set around two disoriented foreigners, who emerge onto the streets of 1899 New York. One is a golem named Chava (meaning life-force), a clay woman fashioned near Danzig, then shipped across the ocean as the wife of a man who problematically dies on the voyage. The other is a Djinni, Ahmad, from the Syrian desert, trapped inside a copper flask until a tinsmith sets him free during a routine repair.
Mysticism, magic and the mundane are weaved together to show the loneliness of these immigrants in such a different environment. An intelligent and thoughtful piece of writing that pulls at the heartstrings but not so much that it overpowers to become depressing. The story is by no means a happy tale, and although Chava and Ahmad find their place, ends bittersweet, as like most first generation immigrants, they struggle to fit in to their new world and find it difficult to relate to each other within their loneliness.
This novel is a namesake to its lead female characters, Chava, and gains a life-force from the mysticism and fantastical elements used, to make the mundane much more poignant than it would have been, and at the same time making this a much lighter and entertaining read.