Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
486 pages
a copy of this book was provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours

Helene Wecker's debut novel is impressive on many levels. She tells her tale with the confidence of a born storyteller, and casts a mesmerizing dreamlike spell over her reader like a modern-day Scheherazade. Although she tells a fantastic tale of mythical creatures, but roots her story firmly in the historical details of New York in 1899. Finally, Wecker gives her primary characters, magical as they are, thoroughly believable, realistic, and consistent character traits.

The Golem is a creature created from clay, endowed with human appearance, and meant to obey a single master. Wecker's Golem is a woman created as a wife for a man who inconveniently dies during the voyage to America. The Golem lands in New York and, by chance, meets Rabbi Avram Meyer, who recognizes her for what she is, and tries to help her. Meyer teaches the Golem about her nature, how to mimic human behavior, and how to cope with her ability to intuit the wishes, desires, and worries of every human with whom she comes in contact.

The Jinni is a fiery creature, trapped in a human form, and transported to New York in (of course) a copper bottle. The Jinni becomes an apprentice to a Syrian tinsmith after being accidentally released from his bottle, but not from his bondage. An iron cuff binds the Jinni's wrist, and a spell binds him to his human form--and an unknown master. Bottled up for a thousand years, the Jinni is unable to remember anything about the events leading to his capture.

When the Golem and the Jinni meet on the streets of New York, an unlikely friendship is formed and a story both fantastic and enthralling unfolds. Despite their very different natures, the Golem and the Jinni are able to reach a level of understanding made possible by their shared outsider status. The genius of Helene Wecker's writing is that she captures the fabulous, imaginative nature of the Golem and the Jinni, while also making them seem sympathetic and realistic.

Thematically, this novel asks many questions...about the nature of creation and creator, and what allegiance the creator owes the creation (and what the creation owes the creator). There are questions of art and artistic creation, and free-will and fate. Of course, these questions will occur to the reader later, because while you are reading The Golem and the Jinni, you will be caught up in the danger, excitement, and suspense of the story. Can the Golem, named Chava by her Rabbi rescuer, ever really love? Can the Jinni find a way to be free? Can the two friends avoid the destructive and even terrifying powers that are part of their magic? And what will happen when they both come up against powerful malevolent forces?

Wecker obviously enjoys doing research....the streets of New York, particularly the Lower East Side and Little Syria, are lovingly and realistically portrayed. The Golem and the Jinni also takes the reader to the deserts of Syria, and to Danzig, Germany. Fantasy and realism are expertly blended in this tale of immigrants life. I would recommend The Golem and the Jinni to all readers, even those who don't ordinarily dabble in fantasy. A book this richly textured and beautifully written should appeal to a wide range of readers.

I loved The Golem and the Jinni on so many levels: the relentless pull of the narrative, the voice of the storyteller, the beauty of the prose, the very appealing characters, the rich historical backdrop. If you love being carried away by a story, this is your kind of novel. The Golem and the Jinni is an absolutely gorgeous dream of a book.

Helene Wecker has an exceptionally good website, beautifully designed and very informative.


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I am so excited to read this book, it just sounds perfect!

bibliophiliac said...

@Sam-it would be a great way to start your summer break, when that finally comes! Or a wonderful weekend read, if you have time for it in your busy school year....

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I am SO excited about this book - it sounds like an amazing story!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Man of la Book said...

I also liked this book a lot (http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=8188), I thought that the child like view of the golem and jinni really helped the historical fiction aspect of the book.

bibliophiliac said...

@Man of la Book--I agree...kind of like Fankenstein's monster in Mary Shelley's novel, the Golem and the Jinni had to go through an educational process...

Lisa said...

I sometimes struggle with fantasy in novels so I'm glad to have you say that you would even recommend this book to people like me. I've thought it sounded interesting but I just wasn't sure I'd be able to handle the fantasy.

bibliophiliac said...

@Lisa--I hope you will enjoy it if you read it!