I don’t know about you, but I love rereading books. It’s kind of like hanging out with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile: you know them so well, but forget just how much you enjoy spending time with them until you’re back together again. Every time I reread a book, I find something new in it. It took me years of reading Harry Potter to fully appreciate all of the hilarious puns and wordplays, and I still find a new one (or an old one I’d forgotten) every time I read it again.
My most recent reread is a book that I only discovered about a year ago. Unlike my old favorites, no copies of this book have been worn out and replaced from repeated readings. In fact, I’m reading it for only the second time. The book, entitled The Golem and the Jinni, is (sadly) the only novel by author Helene Wecker. After only two readings, I can say with confidence that it is one of my favorites. The characters are believable, the writing lyrical, and the story is absolutely beautiful. This is the sort of book that makes me sit in my car for an extra half hour before heading in for dinner to finish up a few extra pages.
The Golem and the Jinni follows the lives of two creatures living as humans immigrants in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. The Golem, a clay woman brought to life on the crossing from Danzig, must deal with the constant clamor of the unspoken fears and desires of all those around her after the untimely death of her master. Her unique makeup constantly illustrates the importance of tempering one’s own desires so as to avoid hurting others. The Jinni, a creature of fire and impulse who inhabited the deserts of Syria over a 1000 years earlier, awakens in the shop of the tinsmith who unwittingly freed him from imprisonment in a flask. Bound to human form by an iron cuff on one wrist, the Jinni chafes at the restraints of society and at the idea that his actions should reflect anything other than his own selfish desires. The two creatures, one immensely old and the other incredibly young, meet one evening on the streets of the city and immediately recognize each other as Other. “You’re made of earth,” he says. “And you’re made of fire,” she replies. They begin a tentative friendship, spending the long evenings (neither sleeps) exploring the wonders of the city around them. With each other, they can finally be honest about their very natures and the daily struggles that arise from them.
This novel starts slow and builds gradually as it goes on. Several storylines are woven together, including the last weeks of the Jinni’s life before imprisonment at the hands of a Syrian wizard, the Jinni’s modern-day seduction of a young socialite, and the pair’s increasingly intertwined lives in New York. The ending, which manages to be heart-pounding without ever feeling rushed, is satisfying and fits well with the novel as a whole.
As I reread The Golem and the Jinni, I am struck again at the beauty of the language. I remembered the story from my first reading, but somehow forgot that the way this story is told is nearly as lovely as the story itself. If you enjoy listening to audiobooks (or are looking for one to try), this is a fantastic find. The narrator completely embodies each character, while capturing the lyrical nature of the writing itself. This is a fabulous book, and I look forward to rereading it again in the future.
-Kathryn Green, Technology Manager.