So I’m sort of trying something new while also returning to an old reviewing format that I realised I’ve really been missing lately. Once upon a time, I’d review serialised stories here, covering one episode (or ‘chapter’) per week. The format worked for me because it let me break a story down into more manageable pieces, and having a shorter segment to focus on let me dig deeper into the details, which is something I love to do and find much easier than trying to give a more generalised review of an entire story.
So! Starting today, I’m going back to that style of reviewing, and we’ll see how it works out. And I’m going to kick things off with a dive into Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni. Let’s discuss!
NEW YORK, 1899.
TWO STRANGERS, ONE DESTINY.
Chava is a golem, a creature of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in a dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York.
Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.
The Golem & The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice…
The story begins by introducing Otto Rotfeld, the disgraced rabbi who creates a golem rather than making the effort to find a wife the old-fashioned way. I won’t lie, I was fully ready to mark him down as a creeper and I was right on the edge of being put off… but then a few things happened.
One, I realised that the fairytale-like narration was pleasing, rather than unsettling;
Two, when asked what sort of personality traits he wants his “wife” to have, Otto steers clear of anything superficial and replies that he wants her to have curiosity and intelligence (this could so easily have become a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario but good for you, Otto);
And three, well. He kicks the bucket not long after, so any chance of a predatory downturn here is neatly avoided. Alanis Morrissette would say it’s ironic.
So fare thee well, Otto, and on we move to the story of what the golem (with no name) does next. Namely, escape being apprehended upon being found on a ship to America with no identification papers by diving overboard and walking to New York. Underwater.
Already in this chapter, we see a very neat shift from its fairytale-esque opening, to a more historical-fantasy feel, both in setting and in tone. And to have a newly-created golem, so fresh that she has no name, accidentally masterless, arriving in New York at the turn of a century is a perfect way to begin the story of whoever she’ll become. Just like that, I’m sold on this. I might just have to break out the good tea and my favourite blanket for this book, because it’s exactly that sort of a story. Bring on your cold nights. I’m ready for them.