Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Monster Mash

Helene Wecker’s new The Golem and the Jinni reads like When Harry Met Sally, if Harry and Sally were beasts

Print Email
(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original images George Eastman House, New York Public Library, and Center for Jewish History )
Related Content

Schlocky Horror Picture Show

The Possession, starring Matisyahu, fails to live up to the potential of Jewish horror films

Pulpless Fiction

Michael Chabon’s new novel Telegraph Avenue is typically stylish, but overwritten

Feet of Clay

Golem, welcome to Williamsburg

But, even more than the Golem, the Jinni is unhappy with his new American life. He is an ancient fire-spirit who was trapped in human form by another evil sorcerer, who bound him by means of an iron cuff. Because he is made of fire, he can be extinguished by water, which means he can’t go outside in the rain. Most of all, however, he misses the irresponsible freedom of the Jinni’s life in the desert, flying around in solitude and occasionally seducing human women for fun.

Inevitably, the Golem and the Jinni meet one night on the street, and each is automatically able to recognize the other. They form a partnership—neither romantic nor crime-fighting, as one might expect, but a sort of supernatural landsmanshaft, helping one another acclimate to their new lives. Chava goes to work in a bakery, where she is so mechanically efficient that she must force herself to make mistakes in order to pass for human. Ahmad makes tiny metal animals and then a whole decorated ceiling, which becomes the talk of Little Syria. And both end up in romantic entanglements with humans. Ahmad talks his way into the bed of Sophia Winston, a rich heiress (and a particularly thin character: “There was a high color in her cheek, a marvelous complement to her close-fitting burgundy gown”). Meanwhile, Chava, still unsatisfied without a master, gets married to Michael Levy, an agnostic do-gooder who runs a settlement house for Jewish immigrants.

It’s clear that The Golem and the Jinni has the potential to be a more literary novel than it finally wants to be. Chava’s predicament raises questions about female subservience and power; Ahmad, meanwhile, is a kind of Byronic supermale, unwilling to be tied down by duty or relationships. As both make their way in their immigrant milieu, Wecker has the opportunity to sketch what life was like for our ancestors, but she restricts herself to broad, familiar strokes: the ice-cream peddler, sleeping on balconies in hot weather, and so on. And psychology, almost by definition, has no place in a novel about magic monsters.

In any case, the novel’s more serious concerns are eventually lost as the action heats up. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the evil sorcerer who made the Golem and the evil sorcerer who captured the Jinni are connected; magic spells on ancient parchments are hidden and found; and good eventually triumphs. Socially, too, the message is a hopeful one. The division between Arab and Jew, so intractable in real life, becomes in fiction a mere difference in names: Both cultures are simply sources of folklore, colorful and full of magic—a sci-fi ecumenism. Wecker even leaves things open for a possible sequel—the Golem and the Jinni, like Harry and Sally, seem to be moving from friends to lovers. Surely their offspring, like the book itself, would be unstoppable.

***

Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

1 2View as single page
Print Email
rebmark says:

Thank you. But you’ve left out reference to one of the best recent “golem” novels: Marge Piercy’s “He, She and It” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He,_She_and_It

AngelaJo says:

Read the book, loved it. A delicate love affair with two powerful beings. Interesting history about New York. Nice front cover, fits well with the story.

I ADORED this book. A point this piece fails to make, that I think is central to the book, is that it’s deeply feminist: concerned with women’s emancipation and free will (yes, men’s too, but uh, there’s no shortage of portrayals of male empowerment in our culture, y’know?). Unlike Adam, I am not disparaging of the fact that “It’s clear that The Golem and the Jinni has the potential to be a more literary novel than it finally wants to be.” You could snark at E.L. Doctorow for choosing not to be sufficiently literary…but I don’t think many people do, because he’s a dude, and his emphasis is much more on the male coming-of-age experience than that of being female in the 20th century with all the constraints therein. Adam mentions that it’s a very American story, but that’s also why it’s less “literary” than he’d like — it deliberately plays with genre fiction and pulpiness and peculiarly American tropes, mixed in with all the Arab and Jewish folklore. I thought it was spectacular…but I think to fully GET it you have to genuinely respect and appreciate “women’s fiction” and women’s stories (with all that entails). I don’t agree that the seriousness dribbles away as the novel concludes. Relationships are serious business.

I ADORED this book. A point this piece fails to make, that I think is central to the book, is that it’s deeply feminist: concerned with women’s emancipation and free will (yes, men’s too, but uh, there’s no shortage of portrayals of male empowerment in our culture, y’know?). Unlike Adam, I am not disparaging of the fact that “It’s clear that The Golem and the Jinni has the potential to be a more literary novel than it finally wants to be.” You could snark at E.L. Doctorow for choosing not to be sufficiently literary…but I don’t think many people do, because he’s a dude, and his emphasis is much more on the male coming-of-age experience than that of being female in the 20th century with all the constraints therein. Adam mentions that it’s a very American story, but that’s also why it’s less “literary” than he’d like — it deliberately plays with genre fiction and pulpiness and peculiarly American tropes, mixed in with all the Arab and Jewish folklore. I thought it was spectacular…but I think to fully GET it you have to genuinely respect and appreciate “women’s fiction” and women’s stories (with all that entails). I don’t agree that the seriousness dribbles away as the novel concludes. Relationships are serious business.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Monster Mash

Helene Wecker’s new The Golem and the Jinni reads like When Harry Met Sally, if Harry and Sally were beasts

More on Tablet:

Love Syndrome: Israel Story, Episode 2

By Israel Story — Chaya Ben Baruch’s sixth child was born with Down syndrome. Then she did what every good mother does—set out to find him a mate.