Book Club in Session: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Golem Jinni HeaderI thought I’d heard of everything when it came to nonhuman significant others. There are inflatable sex dolls, and one step up, Lars’ life-sized anatomically correct doll-turned-girlfriend in Lars and the Real Girl. And if you can’t buy a girlfriend, you can make one from scratch, much like the robo-wife in Robopocolypse. Yet, a girlfriend made of clay was something new to me… although, come to think of it, the aunts may have baked boyfriends in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I’m thinking so.

Regardless, a woman made of clay (i.e., a Golem) named Chava was one of two main characters in the novel The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. As you may have guessed, the other main character was a Jinni, a being made of fire, known to readers as Ahmad. Both Chava and Ahmad find their way to New York City; the Golem utterly alone and bewildered after her master/boyfriend brought her to life and then promptly died on the oversea voyage to America. The Jinni, on the other hand, finds himself released from an old copper flask where he’d been trapped, a long way from his home country of Syria. Both face looming challenges as they navigate this new world; Chava struggling to fight against her inherent strength and Hulk-like fury that bubble forth when provoked, in addition to hearing the thoughts of everyone around her, and the Jinni chained to his human form by a long ago enacted spell and searching for a way to gain his freedom.

***Warning – This discussion includes spoilers***

Heather: While I applaud the author for an original concept, there were more things I didn’t like than I did, and I struggled to finish this one (Lauren can attest to that – she was begging me to “hurry up and finish already” for at least a month so she could move on to her next book). Since I do not exactly have a ton of good things to say, I thought I’d turn this over to Lauren first. So, to get things rolling, why don’t we start with the positives. What did you find most compelling about the book?

Lauren:  I guess what was most compelling for me was just that these are new supernatural creatures, taking me away from my usual vampires, zombies, demons, and other more common beings.  But if I have to get more specific I would go with Chava being what really drew me to the story.  Her situation made her quite the sympathetic character and I was invested in her figuring out her humanity while also trying to come to terms with constantly being bombarded by the thoughts and emotions of those around her.

The Jinni was also somewhat intriguing, but he was such a selfish poo face that his half of the book was my least favorite of the two, at least for the first half or so of his story.  Don’t even get me started on the woman that he impregnated on a whim, who is now constantly cold after miscarrying her fire baby.  That was just weird…  But his intrigue in the Golem gave me hope that there was potential for his character to become more likeable, and I was in love with the idea of this uncomfortable friendship between the two as they try to figure each other and this new world out.

I was a little bummed that more pages were dedicated to the Jinni seeing as he also has a past to contend with, but again, in the end it just built up his character in such a way that I did start appreciating what he has to add to the story all the more.

Heather: I agree – of the two I definitely liked Chava better. She was the more sympathetic character. She had a kind soul; she wanted others to like her and accept her, and was terrified about ever hurting someone without meaning to. But I still just couldn’t get into the story very much – especially because half of it revolved around the Jinni and I had so little invested in him. Not to mention the plot was so boring. Things didn’t start to get interesting until the very end when the Jinni’s backstory was more fully explained. By then it felt too little too late.

Lauren: I didn’t have this same problem that you did with getting into the story. I guess it had to do with my interest in seeing where their stories would go and how the Golem and Jinni would evolve as characters for me, which is why it was unfortunate when the Golem’s creator’s quest for everlasting life occasionally pulled focus. Maybe it is simply because it’s hard to read chapters from the perspective of a character I don’t care for (I’m looking at you Theon! You get out of my Game of Thrones!), but I think I was just not at all interested in the conflict he presented in the current timeline. His past connection to the Jinni was not quite what I expected, so I’ll commend the writer on that because I appreciated how it affected the Jinni, but the focus shifting in the final showdown rubbed me the wrong way, as if the bad guy’s end goal was equally important to what the Golem and Jinni were going through, or even more so. Especially considering once that climax was over, the rest of the story involving the title characters was burning through in the Epilogue, at least as far as I can remember. I dunno, it just felt off.

I guess in the end I would have been more satisfied with the ending if the villain’s demands/confrontation had resolved differently. I think I was expecting something more profound once he realized that he’s been immortal in a round about way all along through reincarnation. I just can’t understand why he would be satisfied by this cycle in which he forgets everything with each new life, other than this desire to find life/death’s secrets. Seems torturous to me, and being ok with continuing on this way put the final nail in my lack of interest in this character and his drive/motivation. (Random note that I can’t quite explain: this final showdown made me think of the climax of the first Twilight novel. Again, I don’t know why… But that does say something about how I felt about this scene…) How did you feel about the end? Did you like how the story was wrapped up?

Heather: No I didn’t like the end, but for different reasons than you. Even though I hated how the Golem’s creator/Jinni’s captor suddenly started to play a more central role than anyone else, how else were we going to learn about how the Jinni was originally enslaved had it not been for his captor coming into the picture? Like you said, I can’t really think of any other way to end it, and without him, there would not have been any climax to the story. That being said, I do not feel like there was adequate lead up to justify him being thrust into the story at the end like he was. Had the author wanted him to play such a pivotal role, we should have begun hearing his perspective more prominently much earlier on in the story.

Here’s why I didn’t care for the ending. First, when the Jinni returned home to Syria with Matthew in tow, I thought it was because he had turned a corner and was going to be Matthew’s caretaker since his mother was now dead. It would sort of make up for the Jinni being a selfish prick the rest of the book, only really looking out for himself and not caring about the destruction left in his wake. And speaking of things he destroyed (as you mentioned before), remember that girl he had a brief fling with in the beginning of the book? The one that got pregnant and was perpetually freezing for the rest of the book? She had every right to hate the Jinni for what he did to her, but all of a sudden she just decides she is at peace with everything and moves across the ocean to live in a warmer climate? What was that about!? It didn’t make any sense. I feel like the Jinni never has to pay for any of the awful things he’s done!

I think this novel would have been better off as a short story that didn’t even have the Jinni as a character, just the Golem. And the story could have been about the Rabbi who initially saved her, and his struggle to decide to kill or not kill the Golem (since he was the one who knew the magic words). I think that story would have been more suspenseful and ultimately more compelling. I think I am probably in the minority though, because there are loads of people who are singing this books praises, lauding it as one of the best books of 2013. Personally I don’t get it, but everyone has different tastes I guess, and well, we know I am a picky eater.

So what do you think, is there anything else you want to discuss before we wrap this up, or can I go ahead and put this book behind me once and for all?

Lauren:  Well I can’t say I agree with the short story thing, but that’s just because what kept me interested in the story was the relationship between the Golem and Jinni, so without him I don’t know if her story would have hit me quite like it did.

Oh and the ice cream man!  Now he is a character that the story could have done without as he decides to follow around a man with a flaming head.  Granted they would have to rework the final conflict to do without him, but I just didn’t understand why he wasn’t shying away from Ghostrider!  Yes, he can look him in the face, but if I was that character I think that this revelation would terrify me.

Other than that, I think you are safe to commence the process of cleaning this book from your mind.

Lauren’s Final Grade:  3.5 out of 5 stars     
Heather’s Final Grade: 2 out of 5 stars