A being made of earth. Another made of fire. Magic, a quest for immortality, religion, love and sexuality, this novel has them all and they are blended so perfectly together, the whole experience of reading the book made me go from six hundred pages, that’s a big book, to what, how many more pages left, less than a hundred, nooooo!
The golem is a creature made of clay, given life by an old rabbi whose path had long strayed from the Jewish faith. He molds her according to the instructions of the one that would be her master, a man bound for America in search of a fresh start. She was supposed to be the man’s wife, obedient, attentive to his wishes, curious and modest. And she comes with instructions, as her maker tells her new master – one command to bring her to life, one to destroy her, for golems are strong, unpredictable creatures whose nature can get the better of them. Later on in the story she is named Chava – life.
The djinni is a being of fire that can change shape at will. Roaming the desert, not bound to anyone or anything, his long years are spent building a glass palace in the desert and, because his curiosity is strong, following the caravans and trying to find out more about people. It is this curiosity and ultimately his involvement in the life of a young Bedouin girl, that will change his life, and forced into a human form he has to get used to new things and living among people with rules which he finds distasteful. He is named Ahmad.
The book is a wonderful story from beginning to end. The main characters, the golem and the djinni, are multidimensional, interesting, and faced with decisions that make them sympathetic to the reader. Both of them have to build a new life for themselves among people, hiding their true nature – the golem, her great strength and the ability to hear people’s thoughts, the djinni – his ability to melt metals with his bare hands and create beautiful metalwork. For a while, both manage to live a normal, quiet life, until their true natures begin to chafe at the rules imposed by human society and restlessness threatens to upset their carefully constructed lives. Also, they discover that some people can see they are not human, and an enemy with a plan of his own is threatening their existence. They find some unlikely allies, a man possessed by a djinni, a metal smith who proves to be a good friend, an old rabbi whose research is about to bring about a new discovery.
They become friends by accident, and their conversations are interesting and thought provoking, revealing details about themselves that I found fascinating. These conversations highlight their fundamental differences – while the golem is prudent, calm and composed, the djinni is impatient, passionate and given to reckless actions. Reading their conversations made me think that someone had deliberately split human characteristics and given them to the two creatures. At first it is hard for both of them to accept each other’s traits and imperfections but spending time together affects them both and forces the golem to be more bold and the djinni to accept the consequences for his actions.
The story moves back and forth in time, giving the reader plenty of details into the life of the djinni before he was captured by an old wizard, and the life of the golem’s creator. Because of this, the story feels complete, as there are no major questions left unanswered, except perhaps the one right at the end.
Under the magical beauty of the story, there are some threads worth exploring: living according to the rules vs following one’s instincts, hiding one’s special abilities for fear of rejection, and not in the least, trying to be happy in an unfamiliar and strange world. It’s an interesting analysis of feelings and actions seen from the perspective of two very different creatures that each have to learn compromise and that living among people means they have to adapt and in doing so, give up a part of themselves.
My rating: 5/ 5 stars
*Read in March 2014