Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni

I just finished reading this book over the weekend and I’d like to give you my thoughts on it.

Its different from most books I read in that I don’t tend to gravitate towards historical fiction but the title grabbed me from the shelf. I absolutely love reading about jinn and listening to jinn stories. For those of you who don’t know, a jinn is a creature of smokeless fire that lives, reproduces and dies like humans do and inhabit the earth along with us. There is an entire chapter dedicated to them in the Qur’an and along with humans and angels, they are beings that are intelligent and able to judge right from wrong. The word “genie” comes from the word jinn and although they don’t go around granting wishes, they can change into just about any form they wish and travel great distances in a short amount of time. I can go on and on about jinn, but if you’re interested there is a youtube series called “Jinn and the Unseen World” which I highly recommend.

As for the book itself, it was an easy and entertaining read. The main plot follows two different supernatural creatures, a golem and a jinni, and their lives in 19th century New York as the past events that led them to being in New York come back to destroy them. There’s an evil wizard, Kabbalistic magic, tragedy, death and romance all mixed in the story that is set between flashbacks to hundred of years in the past. A past that the reader learns bit by bit as the story develops which is necessary to the climactic finale between jinni, golem and wizard.

It was interesting to find out what a golem was and to read a story where the characters are all basically Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It was especially interesting that the author chose the main characters to be from Jewish and Muslim traditions and I can’t speak for the golem, but her descriptions of the jinn were perfect. Although its impossible to know exactly the logistics of how a jinn exists in this world — all we have are hadiths to go off of — I thought the author did a really great job of taking what we know about the jinn and putting in her own twist on their capabilities. For instance, it was clever of her to take the fact that they are made of fire and make the main protagonist, Ahmed, a gifted metal smith.

All in all, I thought this was a fine read. This was Helene Wecker’s first novel which is pretty hard to believe since the story is so intricate and thoughtfully constructed. If you’re looking for a read that has a little bit of fantasy, history and drama this is going to be perfect for you.

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