The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Mrs. Wecker’s Opus…
There is so much I wish I could say about The Golem and the Jinni. I’m afraid I haven’t the words–my ability to move my heart to my mind to the page is too puny to do justice to Helene Wecker’s magically fantastic debut novel.
This is my attempt.
I loved the story. Equal parts historical fiction and fantasy, the story paints a compelling picture of turn of the century New York City through the eyes of the immigrants who lived there. Of course the Golem and the Jinni are not your typical immigrants, although there are plenty of those that make up the wonderful supporting cast of characters. Chava is the Golem, a creature of Jewish folklore that is an animated being made of clay. Ahmad is the Jinni, as in the magic-lamp-dwelling, three-wish granting guy from Arabic folklore. Each in New York City for reasons outside their control, they each must navigate their way through the challenges and hardships typically of immigrants in the year 1899. Eventually they meet and form a friendship as magical and powerful as they are. And when an evil follows them from the old world to the new, it’s that relationship that carries the day.
I loved the characters. While the story is great, it’s really the depth of the characters and their relationships that drew me into this book so strongly. The stars of this show are certainly Chava and Ahmad. They are both creatures trapped in situations outside their native existence, and as such, their struggles to find their place into their new worlds play a key role in the story. It’s a long while into a long book before they actually meet, but when they do the relationship that develops between them is the most honest and refreshing depiction of what it means to honestly fall in love I’ve ever read. Also, If there was ever a book whose characters deserved an award for best supporting cast, the secondary characters in this book are the ones. Don’t balk at the 800+ pages of The Golem and the Jinni…Every single one of the pages is used to grow your appreciation for the depth of each character in the story, and I think it’s marvelous.
I loved the philosophy, even though I usually bristle when a book tries to convenience me of something. But not this time, because of the tactful way the ideology is presented. The themes of loving your neighbor vs. loving yourself, free will vs freedom, true love vs loneliness and desire, need vs want, faith vs disbelief, and satisfying the desires of the around you vs satisfying yourself are discussed. All that in addition to the previously mentioned and historically accurate journey into melting pot that was turn-of-the-century Manhattan.
Above all, I mostly simply loved reading this book. The Golem and the Jinni is bursting with honesty and sincerity. The writing is so smooth and comfortable to read…honestly, how could this be a debut novel? Even after 800 pages I still didn’t want the story to end.
I’ll be adding The Golem and the Jinni to my all time favorites list. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become my favorite book of 2014–even though it’s only February. I hope you’ll give it a shot too.