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Fire and Clay: a Review of Helen Wecker’s “The Golem and the Djinni”

Book cover The Golem and the Djinni.

The Golem and the Djinni is, like many fantasy stories, long. With close to 700 pages it’s a commitment sort of book. Nothing you would hastily rush into, something that requires diligence and effort. Something that requires patience. For a long time, it was a book that I could not read because I lacked the time required to commit to it. Although, when the time finally came around, I am happy to say that reading Wecker’s novel was not a waste of time.

Anyone who loves fantasy books, New York, and history, then this is really the perfect book for you. The story is set in 1899 New York City. A time when the city was still becoming itself. With an influx of immigrants from all over the globe, Wecker’s New York hustles and bustles with vivid raw beauty. The story is centred on two unlikely friends, Chava, a golem made of clay, and Ahmad, a djinni born of fire. The two find themselves constantly pretending and trying to fit in, albeit failing more often than not. Chava, as a golem, is made to serve and when her master dies at sea, she has no one to follow. She is able to hear people’s thoughts, their wants and desires, and sometimes she feels overwhelmed by them. It is an old Rabbi who teaches her to judge people not by their thoughts, but by their actions. Ahmad, a djinni is a free roaming fire spirit from the deserts of Syria. He arrives in New York by sheer chance, as a tinsmith named Arbeely manages to free him from his lamp. Ahmad, however, is still not quite free. He wears an iron clasp that prevents him from using all of his powers. He can only remember that he was once trapped by an evil wizard. He must uncover his memories of the past. He is frustrated and angered by his confinement to human form and wishes for a life free from his chains.

Whilst Ahmad longs to be free and Chava longs to be with a master, the two learn a lot from each other: on how to be free, and how to enjoy responsibility, servitude, and compassion. The djinni and the golems’ fates are intertwined with a story that dates back thousands of years. The golem’s maker and the djinni’s captor are in a strange twist of fate and time the same person, Wahab ibn Malik. When the Djinni tries to take his own life to end the cruel curse of the wizard, Wahab ibn Malik, it is the golem who comes to his side and saves him. The story ends in a somewhat unexpected way, with a happily ever after of a different kind.

This book is a really heart warming fantasy story about two souls learning from each other when they least except it. It’s a story that teaches you to look at the world through the eyes of the people around you. It shows you how to let go and when to hold on. If you pick this book, you won’t be disappointed.

Have you read The Golem and the Djinni? What do you think? Are you reading any great books? Remember to share the reading love!