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Literature / The Golem and the Jinni

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Chava: 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.
Ahmad: Yes, but it doesn’t grant wishes. It doesn’t do anything.
Chava: True. But I look at it, and I feel a certain way. Maybe that’s its purpose.

The Golem and the Jinni (2013) is a Historical Fantasy novel written by Helene Wecker about two creatures of legend living among immigrant communities at the end of the 19th century.

In 1899, the Golem wakes up in the cargo of a ship bound for New York City. Despite being inhumanly strong and made of clay, her newborn status makes her fearful and confused about the humans surrounding her. She is taken in and named Chava by a kindly old rabbi, who warns her to never let others around her learn of her true nature, lest they destroy her.

Across town in Little Syria, the Jinni springs from a copper flask being repaired by the local tinsmith. After hundreds of years of imprisonment, the Jinni still has an iron manacle attached to his wrist, confining him to human form instead of his usual form of a spirit made of flame. Choosing the name Ahmad, he begins to work in the tinsmith's shop as an assistant to keep his cover.


After months of living amongst the humans, the two meet late at night, instantly recognizing each other as different from the others around them. A friendship is struck, and slowly the threads of their lives and the peoples' around them become more and more intertwined.

Tropes in this novel include:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: All golems supposedly go berserk or become dangerous at some point. Chava is perpetually worried about it happening to her. And indeed, a couple of times she gets so angry in defense of a person she cares about that she experiences what in a human would probably be called a dissociative episode — her body attacks them while her mind observes, as if from a distance, without being in control.
  • All Myths Are True: When we see Schaalman's past lives we see that in every reincarnation, he became the equivalent of a priest of the dominant religion of the land he was born in, discovered the mystic arts associated with it, found that they were real, and wound up dead because of his lust for power.
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  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Chava is usually overwhelmed with the volume of thoughts that she can hear. The ones of a sexual nature are especially annoying for her considering her modesty (programmed in by Schaalman).
  • Born-Again Immortality: Yehudah Schaalman turns out to be the latest incarnation of the wizard who trapped Ahmad. Gains access to Past-Life Memories late in the book.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The ending is a little bittersweet, as good people do die (mainly, Michael is killed by Yehudah and Saleh gives his life to trap Yehudah in the flask), but otherwise, most of the characters get varying degrees of happy endings. Anna's is the most bittersweet, as she doesn't know how long she'll be able to provide for her son, but she is intent on being the best mother possible and Chava is supporting her as her new, lifelong friend. Ahmad takes Matthew to live with his grandmother and is able to see him off, and he and Arbeely make up and continue their partnership. Sophia gets to see her dream of traveling the world. And of course, Chava and Ahmad are friends once again... with hints they may become something more.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Chava is made of earth; Ahmad is made of fire.
  • The Empath: Chava feels the fears and desires of the people around her. To keep from being identified by her, Schaalman uses a spell to suppress them.
  • Ethical Slut: Jinn are this by nature, male or female. Their society doesn't bother with exclusive or permanent relationship and their flame-like bodies make them passionate and fickle, but Ahmad recoils at the idea of buying a prostitute for the evening, since he considers sex with only physical pleasure to be rather pointless.
  • Genie in a Bottle: Poor Ahmad. At least he doesn't have to grant wishes.
  • Girl in a Box: Chava, before she is activated.
  • God Is Good: The book is very subtle about it, but there is a heavy implication that there is a higher power watching over us whilst not portraying the books' Atheist characters as being bad people because of their lack of faith. Most of them are all around good people.
  • Golem: Chava, obviously. And part of the reason Rabbi Meyer understands her so well is that, as a child, he once created a much-less-complex mini-golem under the supervision of a (slightly eccentric) tutor.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Schaalman gets imprisoned in the same flask he sealed the jinni in 1,000 years earlier
  • Immortality Seeker: Schaalman's goal is to find the secret to eternal life. Ironically he already has it because his existence has been bound to Ahmad's ever since he sealed him in the bottle. Every time he dies he reincarnates, and this cycle will continue as long as Ahmad lives.
  • Loners Are Freaks: The normally tight-knit and social Syrian community is unnerved by Ahmad’s standoffishness.
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end of the book, it's hinted that Chava and Ahmad may attempt to pursue a romantic relationship, even if, given their circumstances, it would be a very strange one to most New Yorkers. Anna certainly wants it to happen.
  • Muggle Best Friend: You'd think that Arbeely would be this, considering that he's the only human that knows Ahmad's secret, but Ahmad is too prickly about his lack of independence (especially compared to his previous life) to open up properly.
  • Our Monsters Are Different (and/or Our Genies Are Different): Chava the golem isn't an automaton, but a conscious being with her own mores & personality. Ahmed the jinni is, contrary to many contemporary depictions, a being of fire, and not air, and is unable to grant wishes even after being released from his imprisonment.
  • The Reveal: Yehudah Schaalman is the latest reincarnation of Wahab ibn Malik.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: Ahmed was imprisoned for 1,000 years (in a literal metal vessel as well).
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Schaalman at the end, in the flask he was going to use on the jinni.
  • Secret-Keeper: Arbeely is this for Ahmad, Rabbi Meyer for Chava.
  • The Sleepless: Ahmad and Chava don't need rest and are incapable of sleep. They both find nights frustratingly dull at times.
  • Slut-Shaming: Affects most of the female characters. Anna has to hide her premarital pregnancy. Sophia has to hide her fling with the jinni, and her engagement is eventually broken because of the rumors. Chava marries a human who doesn't know what she is, and when they engage in "marital duties", it's all good for him...but the one time it starts stimulating her in a pleasurable way and she moves to pursue that, he thinks it's "immodest" and unbecoming of a wife. Because she can sense his desires, she shuts the feeling down.
  • Super Strength: Both Chava and Ahmad — so that when Chava loses control, Ahmad is the only one physically able to stop her.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Schaalman's Start of Darkness begins when his brief dream of an edenic garden is cut off by a voice telling him "You do not belong here." Whether or not it's actually supernatural, he interprets it as God rejecting him and takes up self-serving villainy with barely a backwards glance.
  • True Sight: Chava and Ahmad can see through each other's human disguises to the elemental beings underneath.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Ahmad gets this a *lot*, mostly from Arbeely, but practically everyone he's ever wronged gets a chance to call him out in some form for how his actions caused them harm. His major character arc is learning that his actions have consequences.