Below, read the sec­ond half of chap­ter 1. The first half is excerpt­ed here


In the desert east of the human city of ash-Sham — also called Dam­as­cus — a pair of jinn chased each oth­er across the landscape.

They were young for their kind, mere dozens of years old. For mil­len­nia, their clan had dwelt in the shel­ter of a near­by val­ley, far from the human empires that grew and shrank and con­quered one anoth­er in turn. As they flew — each of them attempt­ing to steal the wind that the oth­er rode, a com­mon game among the young — one of them spied some­thing puz­zling: a man, a human man, walk­ing toward them from the west. He was tall, and thin, and wore no head-cov­er­ing. In one hand he car­ried a trav­el-stained valise.

The young jinn laughed in aston­ish­ment. Humans rarely trav­eled alone in this stretch of the desert, and nev­er on foot. What insan­i­ty had dri­ven this one so far astray? Then their laugh­ter ran dry, for he’d drawn close enough for them to see that he was no human at all, but one of their own kind. He came clos­er still — and a sud­den, instinc­tu­al ter­ror seized them both.

—Iron! He brings iron!

And indeed there it was, a close-fit­ting cuff of beat­en iron, glint­ing from his wrist. But — how was such a thing pos­si­ble? Did he feel no fear at its pres­ence, no sear­ing pain at its touch? What was he?

Bewil­dered, the young­sters fled back to their habi­ta­tion in the val­ley, to tell the elders what they’d seen.

The man who wasn’t a man approached the valley.

The young­sters had seen the truth: he was indeed a jin­ni, a crea­ture of liv­ing flame. Once, like them, he’d been free to take the shape of any ani­mal, or fly invis­i­ble through the air, or even enter dream­ing minds — but he’d lost these abil­i­ties long ago. The iron cuff at his wrist was the work of a pow­er­ful wiz­ard who’d cap­tured him, bound him to human form, and sealed him inside a cop­per flask for safe­keep­ing. He’d lan­guished in that flask for over a thou­sand years — which he’d felt only as a sin­gle, time­less moment — until, in a city on the oth­er side of the world, an unsus­pect­ing tin­smith had bro­ken the seal and released him. He could no longer speak the jinn lan­guage, for it was a thing of flames and wind, unpro­nounce­able by human tongues. Inside his valise was the cop­per flask that had been his prison, now home to the very wiz­ard who’d bound him — a vic­to­ry that had come at great cost. And now he’d returned to the very habi­ta­tion that once had been his own, to hide the flask away from the human world.

He reached the edge of the val­ley and paused, wait­ing. Soon he spied them: a pha­lanx of jinn, com­ing to inves­ti­gate. The jinn young­sters returned as well, but they were not so bold as their elders. They took the form of lizards, and hid in the scrub near the stranger’s feet, small enough to go unnoticed.

—What are you? the elders asked. And the stranger told them his story.

Word of the stranger spread.

Before long, hun­dreds of jinn had gath­ered upon the ridges to peer down into the val­ley where he knelt, dig­ging a hole in the desert floor with his bare hands. The two young­sters, mean­while, flew among their fel­lows, eager­ly spread­ing the tale they’d heard at his feet.

—He is one of us, born from this very habi­ta­tion, bound by a wiz­ard over a thou­sand years ago …

—The iron is enchant­ed, it chains him to human form …

For hours the stranger worked in the grow­ing heat. At last he opened the valise and removed the flask, its cop­per bel­ly glow­ing in the after­noon sun.

—There, you see? That was his prison! And now the wiz­ard him­self is caught inside!

The flask dis­ap­peared into the hole, along with a tat­tered sheaf of papers.—The wizard’s spells, the young­sters said; it was a guess, but an accu­rate one. Then the stranger replaced the dirt and sand, built a cairn of rocks over the spot to mark it, and stood, wip­ing his hands.

The elders, too, had been watch­ing. They descend­ed and spoke, their voic­es echo­ing to the ridge-tops.—But how will you live, they said, bound and chained as you are? What will you do, where will you go?

I’ll go home,” the iron-bound jin­ni replied. And with­out anoth­er word he walked out of the val­ley, and van­ished into the desert.

The tale of the iron-bound jin­ni spread from jinn-child to jinn-child.

All agreed on the main ele­ments: the stranger, the iron, the flask and its bur­ial. But from there, the sto­ry frac­tured and diverged. Some said that he was spot­ted near the invis­i­ble remains of an ancient glass palace, its walls and spires worn to tat­ters. Oth­ers spoke of watch­ing a jin­ni in human form cross into the Ghou­ta, the dan­ger­ous oasis along the east­ern edge of Dam­as­cus, where the marsh-crea­tures liked to snare pass­ing jinn and drag them into the waters, which soon extin­guished them.

—But why would he go there? the lis­ten­ers asked.

—Per­haps to end his unhap­py life, some guessed.

But oth­ers remem­bered his words: I’ll go home. And their thoughts turned to the land beyond the Ghou­ta, the world of men and iron. Was that what he’d meant? Did he dwell among them now? It seemed impos­si­ble. To live as a human, con­stant­ly trudg­ing upon the ground; to shel­ter in their build­ings from the killing rain, and speak to them in their lan­guages — how long could one bear it? How long before the waters of the Ghou­ta began to seem like a wel­come relief?

He could no longer speak the jinn lan­guage, for it was a thing of flames and wind, unpro­nounce­able by human tongues.

Thus they spec­u­lat­ed, and argued, and told the tale over and over amongst them­selves. And through their work­ings, the tale soon gained enough weight and shape to break free of the val­ley and trav­el, like its own strange pro­tag­o­nist, into places where it wasn’t expected.


In truth, the iron-bound jin­ni made it eas­i­ly through the Ghou­ta, for the marsh-crea­tures there were just as fright­ened of him as their desert cousins had been. He had no inkling at all of the sto­ry he’d set into motion, the leg­end now grow­ing behind him. He only knew that he had a ship to catch.

In Dam­as­cus he caught the train over the moun­tains to the docks at Beirut, where he placed an over­seas cable at the telegram office and then joined the line for his pack­et ship. The line advanced slow­ly. He tried to remain patient. A year now since he’d been freed from the flask, and patience was still a dai­ly strug­gle. He sus­pect­ed it always would be. He closed his eyes, felt the tick­et in his pock­et, lis­tened to the calls of the seag­ulls and the waves lap­ping at the har­bor walls. It was a humid day, and his skin tin­gled where the air touched it. He kept his mind on the voy­age ahead: first to Mar­seilles, where he would change to the steamship Gal­lia, and then the Atlantic cross­ing to New York. It would be long and try­ing and uncom­fort­able, but then it would be over. He refrained from remem­ber­ing the feel of the desert, the sight of his kin on the breeze, the sound of the windswept lan­guage he could no longer speak. He’d want­ed to stay longer, to beg the elders to keep talk­ing to him for hours, days, about any­thing at all. But what good would it have done? Far bet­ter to fin­ish his errand and leave quick­ly. To return to New York and ful­fill the promise he’d made.

At last he reached the front of the line and hand­ed the uni­formed agent his ticket.

Name?” said the agent.

Ahmad al-Hadid.” Not his true name, of course, but his nonethe­less. He’d cho­sen it him­self: hadid mean­ing iron,” and Ahmad sim­ply because he liked how it sounded.

The agent waved him through, and he start­ed up the gang­plank— just as a boy from the telegram office ran up to him, bowed quick­ly, and hand­ed him a fold­ed cable.

The Jin­ni read it, and smiled.


A tall woman in a dark cloak walked a tree-lined path in a Brook­lyn ceme­tery, a small stone nes­tled in the palm of her hand.

It was Octo­ber now, a crisp and beau­ti­ful day. The trees had long since turned, and their bur­nished leaves lay so thick upon the ground that they obscured the path. The woman turned at the cor­rect spot regard­less, walk­ing between the rows of head­stones to a grave whose sod had bare­ly tak­en root. Michael Levy, Beloved Hus­band and Nephew. Rab­bi Avram Mey­er, his uncle, lay only a row away.

Beloved Hus­band: it was a well-mean­ing fic­tion. Not the marriage

itself; she had every right to call her­self Cha­va Levy, though she’d been mar­ried and wid­owed in the space of a sea­son. But love? She’d kept her nature a secret, had built their union upon her husband’s igno­rance, and it had been a fail­ure from the start. And then, at last, he’d learned the truth — not from her own lips, but through the work­ings of Yehu­dah Schaal­man, a vil­lain­ous man. It was Schaal­man him­self who’d cre­at­ed her, a clay bride for a busi­ness­man named Otto Rot­feld who’d want­ed a new life in Amer­i­ca and a wife to go with it. But Rot­feld had died halfway across the Atlantic, leav­ing her con­fused and adrift, utter­ly igno­rant of human­i­ty — know­ing only that she must keep her nature hid­den at all costs. Then Schaal­man, too, had come to New York, and learned his own hid­den truth: that he was the death­less rein­car­na­tion of a desert wiz­ard who, a thou­sand years ago, had cap­tured a pow­er­ful jin­ni, bound him with iron, and sealed him away in a flask. In the end, Schaal­man had been defeat­ed — but not before he’d mur­dered Michael, a tragedy that she couldn’t help feel­ing was on her own account.

She crouched down, plucked the stray leaves from the head­stone. Hel­lo, Michael,” she mur­mured. She’d spent the street­car ride to the ceme­tery con­sid­er­ing her words, but now they felt self-con­scious, inad­e­quate. She went on any­way. I’m so sor­ry I lied to you,” she said. Your uncle told me once that I’d have to lie for the rest of my life, and that I’d find it hard to bear. He was right, of course. He usu­al­ly was.” She smiled sad­ly, then sobered. I’m not ask­ing for your per­mis­sion, or your bless­ing. I just want you to under­stand. If you’d sur­vived, I would’ve been a true and faith­ful wife, with­out any lies between us. But I don’t think it would’ve lasted.”

Was she only telling her­self what she want­ed to hear? Would he have been will­ing, even hap­py, to stay with her? She would nev­er bear chil­dren, nev­er age, nev­er change. She gazed down at the stone she’d brought, cupped inside a hand formed from the clay of a Pruss­ian river­bank. If she want­ed to, she could close her fist and squeeze until rock dust sift­ed from her fin­gers. No, Michael wouldn’t have want­ed her for a wife. Not once he knew.

The pier was crowd­ed with men in autumn hats and over­coats, and here and there a few women, cloaked like herself.

She couldn’t stay long. She had an appoint­ment at a Man­hat­tan pier, a promise to keep. She placed the stone atop the smooth-carved gran­ite: a token of her vis­it, like she’d seen on oth­er Jew­ish graves, more sober and last­ing than flowers.

I hope you’re at peace,” the Golem told him.


The Gal­lia approached the Hud­son docklands.

The pier was crowd­ed with men in autumn hats and over­coats, and here and there a few women, cloaked like her­self. They were wait­ing for fathers and moth­ers, wives and chil­dren, dis­tant cousins, busi­ness part­ners; for those whose faces they knew by heart, and those they knew not at all. The crowd stirred around her, fill­ing her mind with their fears and desires:

Is that Moth­er at the rail?—

Please, God, don’t let him find out what hap­pened while he was gone— If he didn’t make that sale, then we’re sunk—

It was a strange and dubi­ous gift of Rotfeld’s pass­ing, this pow­er of hers. With­out the wish­es and com­mands of a true mas­ter to fol­low, her seek­ing mind instead found those of every­one else. At first the com­pul­sion to obey them had been over­whelm­ing; but time, and train­ing, had weak­ened their pull. They still har­ried her on occa­sion — when she was anx­ious or upset, or sim­ply at the lim­its of her mind’s endurance. But for the most part they were only whis­pers, dim­ly overheard.

And thread­ing through those over­heard fears and desires, nei­ther loud­er nor soft­er: a sim­ple sound, an elon­gat­ed note, the frozen scream of Yehu­dah Schaal­man, who lay trapped in a flask on the oth­er side of the earth. He’d be with her always now. A small price to pay when she’d come so close to los­ing everything.

At last the gang­plank low­ered, and the pas­sen­gers began to emerge — and there he was. Tall and hand­some, hat­less as always, his bat­tered valise still streaked with desert dust. His fea­tures glowed as though lit from with­in: the proof of his true nature, vis­i­ble only to those, like her­self, with the pow­er to see it. From one wrist glint­ed the iron cuff that trapped him; it also veiled his mind, mak­ing him the only per­son in the crowd — per­haps the world — whose thoughts she couldn’t sense.

He must’ve spied her from the deck, for he angled toward her unerr­ing­ly. They stood togeth­er as the crowd rushed around them and the air filled with greet­ings in a dozen lan­guages, a Babel of reunion. They smiled at each other.

Well,” the Jin­ni said, shall we go for a walk?”

They went to Cen­tral Park, he still car­ry­ing the valise.

They kept to the main paths and spoke lit­tle, though there was much they might have said. She con­sid­ered ask­ing about his vis­it to the desert and the jinn — his own peo­ple, of whom he spoke so rarely. What had it felt like, to be in their pres­ence again? She imag­ined pain, joy, regret — how could it be oth­er­wise? But per­haps he didn’t want to talk about it yet. She had no wish to cause him pain, to start an argu­ment, when he’d only just returned. There’d be time for all of that lat­er. For now, she mere­ly want­ed to be with him again.

He, too, had ques­tions he might’ve asked. How had she fared these last weeks? He couldn’t help think­ing of Michael, the hus­band he’d nev­er met. She mourned him, sure­ly, but he saw no out­ward sign of it. Per­haps he was meant to ask — but he knew next to noth­ing about the man, let alone the specifics of their brief mar­riage, and felt a half-guilty reluc­tance to learn. Far eas­i­er to leave it alone, for now, and sim­ply be glad of her company.

The shad­ows length­ened; the crowds dwin­dled. She drew clos­er to him now as they walked the Mall — and belat­ed­ly he remem­bered that she’d been forced to stay indoors each night that he was gone, a hostage to the soci­etal rule that no woman of good morals went out alone after dark. He smiled now, watch­ing her gaze up at the elms, strange­ly proud to be the one whose pres­ence meant she could walk the lamp-lit cob­bles, and enjoy the cool and mist­ed air. And she smiled, too, to feel the Park’s life-force all around her, the earth­ly strength so like her own.

They left the Park through the Colum­bus Cir­cle gates, walked south along Broadway’s thor­ough­fare. Each pass­ing sight — Madi­son Square with its tidy paths, the Wash­ing­ton Square Arch awash in elec­tric light — was a land­mark of their rela­tion­ship, the spot of some dis­cus­sion or con­fronta­tion. They’d dis­cov­ered each oth­er in these places, over those nights. Now, in silence, they lis­tened to the echoes of their past argu­ments — but fond­ly, with­out ran­cor, their eidet­ic mem­o­ries in per­fect agreement.

They reached the Low­er East Side, and her board­ing­house. She looked up at her own dark win­dow, then at his glow­ing face.

Until tomor­row?” he asked. Tomor­row,” she agreed, and they parted.

Alone, he walked west. He crossed the Bow­ery — a brief burst of noise and light — and con­tin­ued through the Cast Iron Dis­trict with its facades of paint­ed met­al. At Wash­ing­ton Street he turned south again, pass­ing shut­tered mar­kets, tobac­conists’ shops. To his right was West Street and the riv­er; he heard shout­ed orders, the thumps of bar­rels, laugh­ter ris­ing from a cel­lar she­been. To his left, the blocks nar­rowed and grew angu­lar, the streets pulling togeth­er as the island thinned, draw­ing him along to Lit­tle Syr­ia, the neigh­bor­hood at its tip. Here the street was dark and qui­et, save for a soli­tary light that glowed from a half-sub­ter­ranean shop win­dow. Arbeely & Ahmad, All Met­als, read the sign above the steps. Through the win­dow he could see a man at a wood­en work­bench, his head cra­dled upon his arms, his back ris­ing and falling in sleep.

The Jin­ni opened the door care­ful­ly, reach­ing up to still the bell— but Arbeely woke any­way. The man sat up, rubbed his eyes briefly, and then smiled. You’re back,” he said.

I am,” said the Jin­ni, and set down his emp­ty valise at last.

The Golem and the Jin­ni was award­ed the Mythopoe­ic Award, the VCU Cabell Award, and the Har­ald U. Rib­alow Prize, and was nom­i­nat­ed for a Neb­u­la and World Fan­ta­sy Awards. Her work has appeared in Joy­land, Cata­ma­ran, and in the anthol­o­gy The Djinn Falls in Love and Oth­er Sto­ries. She lives in the San Fran­cis­co Bay area with her family.