[Book Review] The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni / Helene Wecker

In overstated simplification, The Golem and the Jinni is a story about two improbable beings discovering themselves, and each other, in a time and a place where neither belong.  The setting is the New York of 1899, with flashes of the past lives that set the stage on which our actors perform, yet the novel has a feel of happening once upon a time.  As the golem named Chava and the jinni named Ahmed learn what it means to live as a human in a city they explore existential questions of human behavior and belief that are so alien to these creatures of myth.

The Golem and the Jinni was the August pick for Virtual Speculation.  I had previously read this book and failed to review it simply because it was one of those books that I loved yet had difficult describing or quantifying.  The story has a dreamlike quality that I feared ruining through poor description.

Discussion Fodder:
  • What do you think of Rottfield's requests for his golem's personality?
  • Could The Golem and the Jinni be considered a sort of "Adam & Eve" story?  About creation, innocence, curiosity, and downfall?
  • What do you think about the golem's willingness to accept another's decision to destroy her, or even to destroy herself?  Can she be considered suicidal?  Fatalistic?  Pragmatic?
  • Do you agree with "A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it.  You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts"?  What about the intent behind an action?
  • The jinni finds assuming a name to be upsetting; "To him the new name suggested that the change's he'd undergone were so drastic, so pervasive, that he was no longer the same being at all."  Do you think the assumption of a name and the attempt to appear human change him?
  • Does Chava have a "soul" (and does it matter)?  Beyond the physical, what sets her apart from humanity?  Is she "a person made of clay" or a "beast of burden"?
  • As a golem, Chava needs to be bound to someone, is this a terrible thing?
  • Is relying on someone a weakness, as Ahmed thinks, or is it the way things for everyone, as Chava believes?
  • "So, it's just stories now.  And perhaps the humans did create their God.  But does that make him less real?  Take this arch.  They created it.  Now it exists."  What makes something real, when does something become "just a story," and no longer real?
  • Did the jinni child die because Sophie wished it, or because a human/jinni child couldn't survive within a human?
  • What do you think about Chava's relationship with Michael.  Is it wrong that she responds to his sexual desire out of her need to answer the desires of those around her?  What about her suppression of exploration of her own sexuality due to Michael's discomfort?
  • Chava suffers from dissatisfaction, restlessness, a desire to be more.  Do you see any of the 'feminine mystique' in her difficulties?

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