Published: December 31st 2013 by Harper Perennial (first published April 15th 2013)
Genre: Literary Fiction | Historical
My Rating: 4 1/2 of 5 Stars
So, what drew me to The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker? Well, truth be told, I stumbled upon it, but the blurb ended with this intriguing sentence: “Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.” It promised to have all the elements I love.
Blurb taken from Goodreads:
In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free
Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
Wecker promised and delivered. The writing is lush, elegant and detailed. You can tell a lot of research went into not only the character creation, but the settings as well. Very few books inspire me to stop and reread sentences just because they are beautiful. This one did.
The characters are, to quote Shrek, ‘like onions!’ They have layers and are complex. Little by little the layers are peeled back and yet you get the sense that you’ll never fully know or understand them. The story is unique. Sure there are tons of stories about Jinnis and it has been suggested that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was influenced by stories of golems, but have the two ever met? The plot relies heavily on the secondary characters and each inciting incident is beautifully crafted even if the actions being portrayed are quite ugly.
I really wanted to give this book five stars, but to remain honest with myself and you I’ll only give it four and a half. The story lagged for a bit during the middle. Once the action picked up it was difficult to put down. The reader withdraws from the story knowing at least a few of the characters continue moving forward, but one found herself changed by the Jinni more than the others and I yearn to know how she fared.
It seems silly to use the word cliché in connection to The Golem and the Jinni, but it’s true that I didn’t want my time with them to end, the best kind of cliché. I highly recommend this book. In fact, I think it’s a book that everyone should read. The skillful writing alone makes it worthwhile.