The Golem, the Jinni, and the Syrians in New York

“The Golem and the Jinni,” by Helene Wecker was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and won the 2014 Mythopoeic Award.

These two books–one a novel, the other a study of Arab immigrants to Manhattan’s Lower East Side–are a fascinating pair to read in conjunction with each other. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker tells the story of two mythical beings–one Jewish, the other Syrian– which takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900 by Linda K. Jacobs tells the never-before-told story of the first Arab immigrants to settle in Manhattan.

Both books explore many themes but one that stands out is the tolerance individuals from each community had for the other even as each community–as well as the broader society of Manhattan–struggled with the presence of those they each considered “the Other.” The twists and turns of the novel reflect the twists and turns of historic life for the immigrants who struggled to make new lives for themselves and their families in the New World. (I never quite appreciated how radical the idea of the New World was until I saw The Hunt for Red October (based on Tom Clancy’s book) and heard Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) welcome Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) to the New World after Capt. Ramius quotes Christopher Columbus’ musings that “the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.”)

Too many people seem too eager to demonize a wide variety of “Others” in modern society. Add either–or BOTH!–of these books to your “Want to Read” list and see how we were able to overcome such attempts at demonization in the past while enjoying wonderful storytelling!

Want to know more? Read the Huffington Post article about Strangers in the West or my post about The Golem and the Jinni.

“Strangers in the West” by Linda K. Jacobs tells the story of this classic multiethnic neighborhood which had a dominant Arabic-speaking influence from the 1880s to 1940s, and which served as the “Mother Colony” for the substantial Syrian and Lebanese immigration to the United States.

Subway Magic

Subway tunnels are prime locations for magical activities requiring darkness -- and grit.

Subway tunnels are prime locations for magical activities requiring darkness — and grit.

NYC subways in the 1970s and early 1980s were a very different experience from what they are today.

NYC subways in the 1970s and early 1980s were a very different experience from what they are today.

Subways are a fact of life in New York. More than a fact of life, in fact. They are one of the defining characteristics of life in New York. They get us to work and they get us back home. They get us to the movies and to restaurants. They get us from the Bronx to the Battery and to Coney Island or Flushing. No one can say they’ve truly visited New York or had an authentic New York experience without riding the subway.

Subways feature in books about New York, of course. One great book about vampires on the NYC subways during the gritty days of the late 1970s or early 1980s is Light at the End. Another more recent vampire novel set on the subways is The Lesser Dead. (A wonderful guide to vampire literature of all sorts is The Monster with a Thousand Faces: Guises of the Vampire in Myth and Literature which I highly recommend as well.)

Subways tunnels are dark and dirty, prime sites ready for wicked magic and evil magic-doers: The Night Tourist opens doors to the world of the dead. Subways also take us to the East Village and other neighborhoods where occult supply shops like Enchantments can be found if you need a new Tarot deck, appropriate herbs and spices, or any other magical supplies.

Wouldn’t it be even more magical if everyone remembered a little etiquette while riding the subway?

Just as everyone-including men-should sit on the subway with their knees together, it is also true that everyone-including women-should keep both feet on the floor rather than crossing their knees and sticking one foot out into the aisle halfway across the space allotted for people to stand! ARGH!