The anticipated Ramadan reset did not happen. I had underestimated the power of sleep deprivation and of work to spiral out of control. I finished Steven Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates (review should be up soon) followed by two easy reads, a part of Twitbookclub July selections: Our lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammad Hanif, a Pakistani author and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni was selected in our August list and brings me to the end of Ramadan and Eid.
What a fascinating book. It would be a garden variety love story, if not for supernatural beings, which wouldn’t make it much more special either considering the vein the modern supernatural literature has taken, unless you combine supernatural lore from two different theologies, throw in the ambiguity and chaos of turn of the century (20th century that is) New York and then bring them together through a common powerful antagonist.
The author humanises the Golem and the Djinni, as they struggle to find and define themselves, stuck in tight knit immigrant communities which bring their religious and cultural mores with them to the new world. It may be because they are different species altogether but it can be just anybody surviving in an environment and trying to reconcile with expectations that they don’t see eye to eye with. In this I believe the story transcends the boundaries of a fairy tale. If you read between the lines it might just be a commentary on interaction and connection between two people from different communities and religions. Is isn’t really about love actually, just finding friendships and people who understand you.
The writer dips into centuries old lore to colour her narrative. Djinnis are a part of Islamic theology and they and the prophet Suleyman are mentioned in detail in the Quran. Tales of hauntings and possessions are common in the Middle East, South Asia and Muslim cultures in general. There are stories of people controlling djinns, and then paying the price for it when they get too old to wield the power; also of Djinns who sometimes seek out human company disguising themselves as human and then giving themselves away accidentally, and of Djinniyeh falling in love with human men. Djinnis are created out of fire, and like humans granted free will. In Islam the devil is a djinn called Iblis, who proud and assured of his superiority above man refused to bow to Adam. They are believed to have social structures resembling those of humans, and are said to prefer to live in deserts and mountains and places devoid of human habitation. I can’t say however whether they can die by immersing themselves in water, maybe the author has taken some literary license, but I was rather impressed with her research and the accuracy of the lore. I am quite unaware of Jewish lore and golems, but some googling tells me it is a well know concept.
Speaking about modern supernatural literature, a picture is worth a thousand words, click this link.
At 486 pages, it seems a bit long but it actually isn’t. A very easy read, you could finish it in three or four days, or maybe in 10 hours if you weren’t interrupted.