Thursday, August 22, 2013

Intimate Adventure with Clay and Fire

I’ve just read one of the best historical fantasies I’ve ever come across, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, by Helene Wecker. (Amazingly, it’s the author’s first novel.)

The Golem and the Jinni

Both of the title characters are involuntary immigrants adrift in New York in 1899. The owner of the golem, Chava, died on the ship to America, leaving her masterless. The jinni, Ahmad, accidentally released from an antique copper flask, suffers under a curse cast centuries earlier in circumstances he can’t remember; an iron band on his arm traps him in human form and curtails some of his other powers. To survive in their new home, both must learn to live within human society, beginning with acceptance of the mundane names bestowed by the people who take them in. At first forced to adapt to human customs as camouflage, little by little Chava and Ahmad begin to internalize human behavior and feel emotions new to them.

These two creatures, one of earth (clay) and one of fire, meet by chance and become friends because they share a sense of being out of place in the mundane life of the city. Neither one sleeps, and their first meeting occurs during their nocturnal wanderings through the streets of New York. They can’t reveal the full truth of their natures to anyone but each other. They’re opposites in more ways than their elemental origins: The golem, created to serve a master’s needs, is driven to be useful, happiest when ceaselessly working, and restless without somebody to obey. The jinni, raging against the slavery to which he was bound against his will, is arrogant, volatile, averse to commitment, and often scornful of the mere mortals around him. Both have to keep secrets for their own safety. Yet both eventually form true friendships with some of the people they live among. Little by little, they learn about love—love of many varieties, not only romantic or erotic. Finally, for the welfare of their human companions, they take the risk of exposing their true natures, and both make sacrifices for those they care about. Chava learns to become an independent being, and Ahmad learns to serve the needs of others. This story is an outstanding example of Intimate Adventure.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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