Book Review: THE GOLEM AND THE DJINNI by Helene Wecker

Title in white on a teal skyline with fire
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - first book
CW: self-harm


Book cover for THE GOLEM AND THE DJINNI: title in white on dark green/teal above a city skyline with fire

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

These unlikely friends’ tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE GOLEM AND THE DJINNI is a much slower, gentler book than I would usually read. An interesting one, that’s more a slice of life in 1899 New York that wonders how a Golem and a Djinni might fit in, rather than a book that you might more easily recognise as fantasy.

For one, this book doesn’t really have what I call “an external plot” – this is the plot with the danger-of-life stakes, the big problem and threat. There is an old man that turns up, and then bobs along in their wake for a while, before finally creating the ending that is more dramatic than the entire rest of the book put together. It lends itself to a very slow pacing, without a real sense of stakes or danger on any typical scale.

Instead, the book’s danger is that Ahmad and Chava might be found out, but even that feels very background at time. It’s more like a historical or a literary/general fiction book, where people go about their lives in a painstakingly researched and realised setting, portraying the various cultures immigrating to New York at the turn of the century and all crammed together.

I probably should have guessed this from the UK publisher (at least of the PB) – Borough Press. This is HarperCollins UK’s literary fiction imprint, which sometimes do have fantastical elements (Brigid Collins’ THE BINDING is published through them.)

There is also the very literary device of not actually using Chava and Ahmad for the Golem and the Djinni in their POV sections – instead “the Golem” and “the Djinni” are used. Plus there are SO MANY narrators, with events in the past as well as the present, all weaving together. It took a while for me to work out why I was sitting through this additional character’s life when it didn’t really move Chava or Ahmad’s story along (until the last 50-odd pages.)

It’s a big, expansive, and meandering story. It’s a thick book, and combined with the pacing, there were times when it felt like it was dragging. I did enjoy the book overall, but I think it would have helped if I’d known it wasn’t “a fantasy book” going in, but rather a general/literary fiction book with fantastical elements.

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