A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours, 43 minutes
Publisher: Harper
Narrator: George Guidall

This is the author’s first book and a very impressive one. This isn’t an adventure or action book. It’s the story of two non-human beings who are trying to live unnoticed in human society. They’re quite different in nature and temperaments but they both have to hide their true natures. Both of them also have just one confidante to help them. The story is set in 1899 New York and amongst immigrant people.

The Golem is, of course, a human looking servant made from clay with Jewish sorcery. Otto Rotfeld wanted a wife for himself so he commissioned a female golem. The old sorcerer is surprised but agrees to do it. The Rotfeld also wants his golem to have curiosity towards the world and intelligence as part of her nature as well as a sense of propriety. He voyages to the New World by sea and takes the Golem with him, thinking that he will awaken her when they’ve reached USA. However, he awakens her in the middle of the sea journey but only minutes before he dies. This leaves the new Golem in a terrible dilemma because she’s now masterless. To top it off, she can feel the needs of everyone around her but knows that she must keep her nature a secret. So, she returns to her trunk. In New York, she’s overwhelmed by everything around her. An old rabbi recognizes her nature. For a while Rabbi Mayer thinks about destroying her but instead he decides to help her. He takes her in and does his best to teach her and keep her out of trouble.

Everything is new to the Golem. She has no previous life experience to draw on, only her own nature and that turns out not to be such a good thing because her nature is to help people around her. She knows what they want without speaking which is, clearly, not a human trait, and so she has to constantly battle against her nature to stay hidden. She also doesn’t sleep which makes nights very boring for her; she lives in a society where women can’t go out alone at night. The rabbi names her Chava.

The Jinni lives also in New York, in Little Syria. He has lived for centuries before a sorcerer captured him and enslaved him. The Jinni, who takes the name Ahmad, doesn’t remember much about that time but he wears an iron bracelet which locks him into a human form. When a young tinsmith Boutros Arbeely is repairing a flask, the Jinni appears. He doesn’t have any powers, thanks to the bracelet, but Boutros agrees to help him and takes him as an apprentice. Ahmad also has to keep his nature a secret but he has lots of memories about earlier times and is very frustrated by his current predicament. He doesn’t really care for humans and thinks of blending as a terrible chore. He also doesn’t sleep but he has no problems wandering around the city at night. He also loves to seduce young women.

We get to see Ahmad’s memories from earlier times when he was a powerful Jinni and had the ability to enter people’s dreams. He was curious about humans back then, sometimes disguising himself as a human and talking with various people. However, he turns his attentions mostly towards a young Bedouin girl and starts to enter her dreams more often.

We also get to know the people around Chava and Ahmad. For example, Sallah the ice cream vendor who has a very interesting past or Sophia who’s a rich girl Ahmad has a fling with.

The pace is leisurely which suits the story well. The story has a fairy-tale feeling. However, I think the author could have gotten more out her characters rather than going with a rather safe ending.

The book can be read as metaphor for the immigrant experience; both Chava and Ahmad find refuge among their “own kind”: the Jewish and the Syrian people. However, there wasn’t much in the way of clash of cultures. In fact, just the opposite.

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