The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book. The setting is really interesting (the immigrant community in New York, just before the end of the 19th Century), and the characters get under your skin. There’s an element of fantasy (Chava is a golem, a creature created out of clay, and Ahmad is a jinni, imprisoned in a metal lamp, and then accidentally released), but even if you dislike fantasy, there is a lot to enjoy here.
It is really a story about different cultures rubbing together, and about immigrants finding a place in which they can exist. There are some deep questions about free will, and the extent to which you can escape or transcend your essential nature. It’s also a story about friendship and trust, and even feminism in a way.
Of the two main characters, I felt that Chava was much more sympathetic. Both have the capability to wreak terrible destruction because of their essential natures (and both end up doing just that in different ways), but while Chava agonises about this possibility constantly, Ahmad is much less concerned with the effect he might have on others’ lives.
Overall, this was an engrossing read, and it’s a story that has stayed with me long after reading it.