Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0-06-211084-8
Trade paperback, $15.99, 484 pages
I had heard a lot of great things about Helene Wecker's debut novel, The Golem and The Jinni, but not being a big fan of fantasy, I didn't read it...until now. I tore through this 484-page novel, and loved being dropped into the Arabian desert of hundreds of years ago and turn of the 20th century New York City following the adventures of trapped jinni and lost golem.
We all know what a jinni is (1001 Nights and TV's I Dream of Jeannie), but this jinni follows the folklore more than the fantasy of something that can grant three wishes. This jinni is freed from the copper flask where he has been trapped for hundreds of years and ends up working as a tinsmith in a shop in the Little Syria section of New York City in the early 1900s.
The Golem in the story reminded me of Frankenstein. She was created out of clay (and other things) to be a wife for a man who dies on a boat from Europe to New York City. The Golem ends up in New York City, all alone and unsure of what to do. A rabbi finds her, recognizes her for what she is and takes her in.
Along the way we find out how the jinni came to be trapped and who is stalking him. The evil person who created the golem comes looking for her when he discovers her master has died. A doctor who performed an exorcism that left him blind ends up in New York working in Little Syria as an impoverished ice cream vendor, and ends up involved with the jinni.
The jinni, called Ahmad, and the golem, named Chava by the Rabbi, live their lives, but are truly strangers in a strange land. Ahmad works as a tinsmith by day and wanders the city by night. Chava works in a bakery and at night takes in work as a seamstress as she requires no sleep.
Ahmad and Chava eventually meet and wander the city at night together. I was entranced by their journeys through a New York City I recognized- from the Bowery to Madison Square Park to the mansions of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, which plays such an important role in this book.
Golems are able to hear the secret desires of their master and are made to protect their masters with superhuman strength. When Chava's master died, she could hear the thoughts and desires of everyone around her and it was too much for her to take. And when she or someone she cared about became threatened, she could not control her impulse to physically lash out, leading to bad situations.
The writing is exquisite, and Wecker knows how to turn a phrase. She says of a cemetery headstone that has the name and dates engraved on only one side, "The other was still blank, as though it hadn't yet heard the awful news."
As someone who rides the NYC subways, I appreciated this: "The more he rode the trolleys and trains of New York, the more they seemed to form a giant, malevolent bellows, inhaling defenseless passengers from platforms and street corners and blowing them out again elsewhere."
This is a rip-roaring, page-turning story that dares the reader to put it down. I stayed up til the wee hours of the morning finishing this book, barely breathing until this brilliant, totally engrossing novel was finished. Bravo, Ms. Wecker, I can't wait for your next creation.
rating 5 of 5
Helene Wecker's website is here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of Helene Wecker's tour is here.
Helene’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, January 7th: Bookshelf Fantasies
Wednesday, January 8th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, January 9th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, January 13th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, January 14th: My Shelf Confessions
Wednesday, January 15th: BoundbyWords
Monday, January 20th: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, January 21st: bookchickdi
Wednesday, January 22nd: My Bookshelf
Thursday, January 23rd: Books Without Any Pictures
Monday, January 27th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, January 28th: Ace and Hoser Blook