The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in 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 in 1899.
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.
As soon as I received a copy of ‘The Golem and the Djinni’ for review, I was immediately excited to read it, particularly as it shared comparisons to ‘The Night Circus’ and ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’. However, despite the vast array of five star reviews already cropping up online for this debut novel, I have to admit it failed to captivate me in the same way.
The best way I can describe this novel is that it is without doubt beautifully crafted. Helene Wecker takes her time in slowly setting the scene of immigrant life in New York in the 1800s, and the vast differences between each community; in particular here, the Jewish community, and the Little Syria community. Her descriptions of the people, the food, the smells etc are all wonderfully written and definitely make you feel as though you are right there with them. However, I felt Wecker spent far too much time doing this, and developing her minor characters to a point where the two main characters – the golem and the djinni, often felt a little flat. I actually felt the secondary characters much more rounded, which is a little unusual in a novel!
The golem (a woman made from clay), and the djinni (a male ‘genie’ of sorts), are both increasingly intriguing characters, and I particularly liked the way she slowly develops their relationship (they don’t actually meet each other until half way through the book!). I also liked the way it lost the typical romantic clichés that tend to crop up in novels of this ilk. The golem and the djinni don’t immediately fall in love with each other; there is much more going on, on a much deeper level here. Readers who are expecting a whirlwind, sweeping romance are going to be disappointed. Their relationship is built much more on friendship more than anything else. Although I enjoyed the slow-build of their relationship, I would have liked there to be a little more romance to it!
The last 100 pages or so of the novel are really truly exciting and definitely moved at a faster pace which I would have liked to have seen carried throughout the entire novel, and despite it picking up a little, I still found I didn’t care as much as I would have liked about the lives of these people and the way it would all end for each of them.
Despite the fact that I didn’t love this novel, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people who like this sort of thing, as long as they don’t mind a slower pace. I can see that lots of other readers really loved this novel, and so I wouldn’t want to put people off solely with my opinion. It is still a beautifully crafted book, the descriptions are lovely, and the ideas are fresh and original, but I would have liked a faster pace, a little more romance, and a lot more magic!
The Golem and the Djinni is out on 15th August. A big thank you goes to HarperCollins for providing me with a copy for review.