The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Unlike the recent Alif the Unseen, this is historical fiction covering two timelines. One is the late-1800s/early-1900s in the Lower East Side and Little Syria in New York, the other several hundred years ago in what is now Syria. The interweaving of the times and the stories of Arbeely, the Golem, Ahmad, and Rabbi Meyer make for a rather magical, engrossing tale. At times I thought of Helprin's The Winter's Tale (a good thing, I promise!)
The Golem is created to be a wife to a rather unlovable man who dies on the journey to America. She escapes Ellis Island and is rescued by Rabbi Meyer, ultimately working in a local bakery and learning to become human (or perhaps it's better to say 'learning to mimic humans'). Rabbi Meyer starts researching ancient Kabbalistic rituals to rebind her to a new master, hoping to save her from her worst nature, but dies before he can complete the process.
The Jinni's story is told in two parts: his life as one of the most powerful jinnis, his fascination with the Bedouin who travel through the desert near his 'home' and how he became bound to a long-dead master, and his new life, freed from his prison but still bound in human form and weakened. Luckily his rescuer is a tinsmith, Arbeely, giving him access to the heat he needs and metals he can work with to give him the appearance of a normal working man.
The two meet by accident and take to roaming the streets of New York late at night - as inhuman creatures, they have no need of food or sleep. By now they've taken human names, Chava and Ahmad, and are relatively integrated into their societies; yet when they try a little too hard to be 'normal' things go very wrong. The introduction of Michael Meyer, Ice Cream Saleh, Matthew, Maryamm, Anna, Sophia and others lend color to this story, and the addition of their back stories really make the time and the sense that This Might Have Really Happened come alive.
ARC provided by publisher.