The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker
Goodreads: See here
Page Count: 657
HISTORICAL FICTION / MAGICAL REALISM
Plot at a Glance:
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.
Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how any people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.”
This book has been one of those ones that hung out on my TBR list far longer than it should.
I would catch a glimpse of this book in bookstores and debate picking up a copy, only to pass over it when another book caught my eye. I bought it on my kindle one day, in the hopes that this would force me to prioritize it, and then I discovered Netgalley. 20 ARCs later, I was cycling through my backlog of books I’d not yet read and owned, and this book was fairy screaming at me to give it a chance.
Thankfully, I listened to my heart this time and gave it a go, because I truly loved this book.
The characters are so memorable and vividly and diverse, and the story was a crowning achievement of love and life and the celebration of cultural differences that pleasantly surprised me. We have to talk about the scope and breadth of the writing though because I think as a reader a little preparation before going into this is important.
This is a dense book.
Clocking in at 657 pages (depending on which edition you get it may be a little more, or a little less) this was not quite the longest book I’d read this year but in terms of the scope of where the prose goes, it’s certainly one of the most ambitious.
Wecker was made to write Historical fiction.
With a keen eye for the details, she paints the late 1800s in New York city in wonderfully vivid and culturally sensitive strokes. I loved the way she delved into the different neighborhoods and communities living side by side in the city and the way they differed from each other. The story does roam outside the city as well, and each of the other settings that are visited, however briefly, are treated with that same reverence that had me constantly admiring how much work must have gone into this novel.
That being said, there were times that the depth of certain aspects in the story seemed to hinder plot movement.
In her attempt to build a living, breathing world full of true-to-life characters, Wecker often stalls the narrative flow to swap POVs – sometimes within the same chapter – to fully flesh out an ancillary character that comes into contact with the Golem or the Jinni in their movements about the city. At first, I really enjoyed this because it allows the story to really dive into those cultural differences and does help ground things in the reality of the time the story is set in.
That being said, I quickly reached a point that I began to wonder why we were getting these interludes with all these characters. They are innumerable and constant and there were many points that I found myself just wanting to get back to the main plot so we could see what was going to happen next. In one of my status updates, I described the prose as beautiful, but also long-winded, which I think remained true by the end. While many of those characters end up becoming more important as the story moves on, I can’t help but feel like this book could have been 100 or so pages shorter and nothing of merit would have been lost.
This I could have completely forgiven if I felt that at the end every single character’s inclusion and development ended up contributing something of meaning to the end of the story. Unfortunately, there were 1 or 2 characters that I can think of off the top of my head that I expected more to happen with that just seem to be dropped by the end of the book. One of them in particular seemed a real shame, as her subplot was probably the most compelling of all the lesser characters but her entire dilemma seemed to be hand-waved away in only a line or two, leaving me feeling a bit deflated.
But that complaint is minor and I must reiterate, the pros outweigh the cons here.
In terms of the development of both the primary antagonists (the titular Golem and Jinni) and their adversary antagonist alone, this novel is leaps and bounds ahead of many others I’ve read this year.
The villain in this book has to be one of the most memorable I have read in years. It takes him quite awhile to show up (roughly 65% of the book before it becomes clear who it is) but when it does I couldn’t stop turning pages to find out what was going to happen next, it’s that compelling.
For fans of historical fiction and magical realism, you absolutely must put this on your list. Be advised that while the first half is a bit of a slow burn, the latter half is certainly faster moving and well worth the effort and attention required to make it there. I could actually see this movie being adapted in to film quite well in the right director’s hands. I think there’s a wonderful story here that would translate to the screen beautifully. I hope it gets the opportunity one day, if only because it would help the story reach a larger audience.
I’m very glad I stuck with this and am actually going to seek out a physical copy for my home library – that’s how much I enjoyed it.
🌟🌟🌟🌟= 4/5 stars
Have you read this book? What did you think of the prose? Have you read other Historical Fiction books that are infused with magic? If so, lend me some recommendations below!