Chava, a golem only a few days old, is stranded on a boat to New York City in the early twentieth century with no idea who she is, how to live, or where to go. Ahmad is a djinn trapped in a bottle for centuries, unleashed accidentally by a Syrian metalsmith. These two unlikely friends meet and immediately understand what it is to be different from everyone around them. But as those differences force them apart, will they find their way back to one another?
The Golem and the Djinni is a book that I’ve seen all over the Internet in the last few months. It’s received so many positive reviews that I thought it was well worth reading, not to mention the fact that its blurb compared it to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a book that I adored. The decision was a good one as I greatly enjoyed this tale of turn of the century New York and its two unusual occupants. The book was certainly heavy on the fantasy, but it worked within the story.
One of the aspects of the book that I found very interesting was the way that the two fantasy characters got adopted into different nationalities. Both of them are effectively christened by and welcomed into the Jewish and the Syrian communities in New York, appropriately in both cases. I know life in the city was difficult for immigrants at the time, with so many seeking the American dream and failing to find that the streets were paved in gold. Instead, many of them found prejudice and further poverty. But I love stories about it anyway, particularly the way that immigrants sought familiarity and made their own little communities, and I enjoyed the way these two were still further distanced even from those immigrants. They are a world unto themselves, even while many of their experiences are echoed by others.
The fantasy aspects themselves are well integrated within the novel; I didn’t think the world felt too inconsistent. Both Chava and Ahmad belong distinctly to Old World mythology. They are creatures which have long been consigned to tales, but which truly existed in their own parts of the world. As such, when people close to them realize what they are, they often understand the nature of their beings but have a difficult time imagining that they’re real. They delve into old books and legends to find out the truth, which of course adds just another layer to the book’s appeal.
And, of course, there is the relationship between Chava and Ahmad. It took some time for them to meet, and their initial interactions are tentative, but the way they work together makes sense, even if they aren’t technically human. It was easy for me to relate to both characters and I was very invested in the outcomes of their lives.
I really enjoyed this read – I would definitely recommend The Golem and the Djinni to those who enjoy a mix of fantasy and historical fiction.
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