A Carpet Ride without the Magic

 

 




Picture the lower East Side, in the late 1890's. (You have to picture it. Wecker describes each tenement room as tiny and bare. She neglects any other details.) There are small crowded enclaves of Jews, Syrians, Poles, Russians and others, layered on top of each other and crammed next to each other, but separate. Each group maintains their own language, religions foods, cultures, and fantasies.

The golum, a mythical animated lump of clay, arrives from Poland, unaccompanied. Her master dies in steerage. Around the corner, a Syrian jinni is released from his vase, a vessel, which has bound Ahmad for a thousand years. Coincidentally they each are found by humane humans who accept their fantastic powers and their even more fantastic stories.

In literature you have to suspend rationality and just go along for the ride. The golum, Chava, is found by a rabbi who just brings her into his one bedroom apartment and let's her hide under the bed as he teaches his all male Hebrew classes. Ahmad hides in the tin smith's workshop and prowls the streets all night. 

Neither jinnis nor golems sleep nor do they need to eat. Ahmad easily climbs into a socialite's second floor bedroom, bed and heart. The golum is able to hold down a job in a bakery, befriend a bakery worker, dance and marry. No one, not even her husband, notices that she is cold to the touch and has no heart or heart beat.

This unlikely pair, Chava and Ahmad, travel across the Atlantic and the even larger divide, the Lower East Side, to Park Aveue. The novel is set in the 1890's but seems like it is the present, devoid of cell phones. Sorry. This is not my great grandmother's Canal Street. This novel has lots of turns and twists, but does not transport me. I did not find the characters soaring and the writing is fine, but not magical.