Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"The Golem and the Jinni"

Helene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

She now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter.

Wecker applied the Page 69 Test to The Golem and the Jinni, her first novel, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of The Golem and the Jinni, and this is what I found:
But going by the immediate flood of visitors to Arbeely's shop, it grew clear that Maryam had not waited for their visit; rather, in her enthusiastic manner, she had spread the story of the tinsmith's new Bedouin apprentice far and wide. Arbeely's own little coffeepot bubbled constantly on the brazier as the entire neighborhood filed in and out, eager to meet the newcomer.

Thankfully, the Jinni performed his part well. He entertained the visitors with tales of his supposed crossing and ensuing illness, but never spoke so long that he risked tangling himself in his story. Instead, he painted in broad strokes the picture of a wanderer who one day decided, on little more than a whim, to steal away to America.
We're in turn-of-the-20th-century New York, in the neighborhood of Little Syria. The Jinni is an actual jinni (a.k.a. genie). He's recently arrived in New York - rather suddenly, in fact, exploding out of a copper flask. And now he's got to learn how to pass as human, and fit in among his neighbors. His accomplice in this is Boutros Arbeely, the tinsmith who released him from the flask by accident. Arbeely is the only person in New York who knows the truth about the Jinni. To the rest of the neighborhood - now meeting him for the first time - he's simply Arbeely's new apprentice, a Bedouin named Ahmad.

I'm amused, reading this passage, by how much of the Jinni's personality is on display. He's a smooth character, when he wants to be; and although he hates his situation - he's trapped in human form, a thousand years and half the world away from his home - he's got absolutely no problem lying about it to an entire neighborhood. In fact, he's enjoying himself. Arbeely, meanwhile, is going mental with worry. He hates having to lie to his friends and neighbors, and he's terrified they're going to slip up somehow. This dynamic - Arbeely worrying, the Jinni scoffing at his worry - is the main pattern in their relationship. They're like a quasi-supernatural Odd Couple, and their arguments were a lot of fun to write.

But even though the Jinni has no qualms about lying, the lie itself - the act of passing - is going to take its toll on him. Part of him already knows this. On the next page, he reflects on having to take a human name: "To him the new name suggested that the changes he'd undergone were so drastic, so pervasive, that he was no longer the same being at all." Over the next few hundred pages, this sense of doubt, of alienation from his true self, is going to lead him into a number of adventures and misadventures - as well as an uneasy friendship with a woman he meets one night, a woman who's just as much of an outsider as he is.
View the video trailer for The Golem and the Jinni and visit Helene Wecker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue