Fantastical, imaginative narrative exploring the nature of freedom of choice in nineteenth century New York
I must admit to gobbling up Helene Wecker’s delicious, sprawling-yet-tightly plotted account of the meeting of two mythological creatures from two different cultural and religious traditions – The Golem from Kabbalah/Central European Judaism , the Djinn from Bedouin/Middle East/Islamic as if it were the fabulously tasting confection it is, and I were a sweet toothed literary addict starved of my life-line supply of a tall deep tale excellently told.
The reading far into the night, the laying aside of tasks which needed to be done, the rushing away from social encounters to indulge my fierce craving to read on and on and on, is finally over, the book finished Blast. Blast! BLAST! It’s her first novel too – there are no earlier ones to discover hidden in the confection box
Wecker tells a tall, yet beautifully grounded in reality tale of the Golem, a creature fashioned by man, not by God, from clay (like Adam) but to serve his or her master like a slave. Golems are allowed no desire but that of their master. Hugely powerful, enslaved though they are, if angered, they are an unstoppable force, a Frankenstein’s monster indeed. This particular Golem is female, and is also constructed with intelligence and curiosity – and an overwhelming sense of empathy, so she is pulled hither and thither by the different, competing wants and desires of people’s thoughts.
Set against this proper creature of earth, learning to restrain the voices in her head, the competing empathic sense towards the denizens of her environment, is the fiery untamed voice of freedom to indulge desire, with no responsibility, with no sense of the wrong done to other, as represented by an ancient Djinni (the genie figure of Aladdin’s Lamp is one such creature). Our Djinni, like the Golem, has also been enslaved. He was his own creature, bound by magic, she was created by magic, and is learning to impose a certain freedom of choice in seeking to tame her own destructive side, in learning how to turn down the clamouring, conflicting needs and wants of the people she comes across. Her compassion is her cross to bear, as much as her potential for destruction. The Djinni’s journey is to learn to accept that merely indulging one’s own whim, may also cause devastation.
Our two protagonists are embedding in a rich immigrant community – Jews from Europe, Maronite and Eastern Orthodox Christians from Syria, interspersed with the Djinn’s 1000 year old history in the desert, and Islamic culture
How Wecker weaves all this together, as intricately, beautifully and satisfyingly as the Golem’s bakery skills or the Djinni’s artistic metal-work creations, is a wonderful thing to read. There is a dark, believable story, there are metaphysical concepts about how free any of us are – bound by our own nature, how much of our choices do we really make, where does the ultimate responsibility lie? And if we do an evil or a thoughtless act, because of our natures, how much of all the events that transpire are our fault, how much do other peoples’ choices also contribute to where responsibility lies?
I can’t praise this highly enough. It is a gorgeous, page turning, remarkably easy read, which is at the same time ‘about stuff’ – as indeed myths often are, with their meaning, like icebergs, lying below the surface and waiting to ambush us
And how I wish I had not yet read it, and had this wondrous journey to begin! O still-to-read-this person – how I envy you!
I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK. Lucky me!