As the title suggests, our main characters are a Golem, named Chava, and a Jinni, named Ahmad. As a golem, Chava is alive solely to serve her master, but when she arrives in New York she finds herself masterless. Ahmad is freed from his tin prison, but remembers little of his capture, imprisonment, and servitude. Chava is a creature of the earth while Ahmad is a being of fire. The differences between Chava and Ahmad are vast, but they form a friendship because of their otherness. They find themselves trying to fit in among other immigrants to America… and all of humanity.
If someone were to sit down with me and ask me to list the things I want in a book I would say: alternate history/historical fiction with elements of magical realism, mythology, good characters, and throw in some social commentary while you’re at it. It’s like Helene Wecker was on the other side of the table as I said this and then she wrote this book. This ticks all of my boxes, but I can understand why it won’t please everyone.
The story begins slowly. The various characters are all given ample time to come into their own before the plot really gets rolling. In fact, no real interaction between the title characters even happens until about 200 pages in. Though this might be a turn off to many- I like it. The Golem and the Jinni are well developed before they meet. They aren’t only pushed together to develop, they are clearly separate entities. They exist independently as characters. The supporting cast can be confusing or frustrating at times. There are quite a few of them and they are sometimes introduced with long biographies. Though I enjoyed this, there were times where I just wanted to see more of the Golem and the Jinni. The novel is very character driven. I kept telling myself “one more chapter” because I wanted more of Chava and Ahmad.
I have a few minor issues with the plot, but all in all I love it as is. There is some exploration of class and culture, but there could be more without it hurting the fantasy aspects of the story. The book takes place within the New York Syrian and Jewish communities, but the two areas didn’t feel as culturally distinct as they should. Little Syria in particular could use a bit more development because only two settings within it are given attention. And without giving any spoilers I found the ending to not be as satisfying as I wanted it to be. The way in which some of the plot is tied together seems a tad messy. Still, these are minor issues in an otherwise amazing novel. I hope others will enjoy it as much as I did because there’s a sequel planned for 2018!