Customer Reviews: The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel
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on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is a certain satisfaction in coming to the end of a long novel, but as the pages dwindled on Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni, all I felt was grief that this magical story had to end. After 500 pages, I wanted it to go on and on. And if you stop reading this review right now, that's all you really need to know.

You will be shocked to hear that the novel is, in fact, about a golem and a jinni. For those who are unaware, a golem is a figure of Jewish myth, an automaton made of earth or clay, brought to life to do the bidding of another. A jinni (or genie) is a figure of Arab myth, a magical creature of fire. So, before we even get into plot details, look at that fascinating set-up! Jewish/Arab. Earth/fire. Just hearing the premise, I anticipated some sort of culture clash to be central to the tale. And while the story does primarily unfold amongst the Jewish and Syrian immigrant populations of late 19th century New York, it is not a parable of Mid-East conflict. This was merely the first of many instances when Ms. Wecker defied expectations and convention, keeping me guessing in what direction her tale would evolve again and again.

Talk about defying convention--the titular golem is a woman, and self-aware. She was originally created (with a laundry list of attributes that included intelligence, curiosity, and propriety) to be a rich merchant's wife. He, alas, died en route to America, shortly after bringing her to life. She arrived at Ellis Island without a master or a plan. The jinni, on the other hand, WAS freed from ia thousand-year mprisonment in a flask--but don't expect him to start granting wishes any time soon.

This is the story of two creatures in turn of the century New York who are both Old Worldly and otherworldly. Separately, they must find their way in circumstances that neither is prepared for, all the while concealing their essential natures. As the golem says to the jinni, "We're our natures, you and I." Because, yes, eventually their paths do cross and it's the start of a most unexpected friendship.

Can I tell you? This wonderful, literary fantasy left me wanting to slap the next writer who sits down in front of a keyboard and starts typing about a vampire. Ms. Wecker has created a story unlike anything I've ever seen. Her central characters, while not human, share a deep humanity (for better or worse) and are beautifully drawn. Other characters, which at first seem peripheral to the tale, prove to be central, as Wecker's story expands encompassing a larger community. And at all times the relationships depicted between men, women, creatures, adults, children, friends, lovers, and enemies were complex, unpredictable, and captivating. The novel's prose is as rich as the period setting is evocative. And while I really haven't gone into any detail, please know that the plotting is both elegant and assured.

Of course, there IS culture clash in this novel, and conflict galore. But in every instance that her tale could be ordinary, Ms. Wecker makes it extraordinary. The lush cultures, heritage, and history depicted so beautifully are merely the jumping off point for a dazzlingly inventive fantasy. Where did this writer come from, and how is it possible that this accomplished work is her debut? It is sure to be one of the literary highlights of the year!
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
4/1/13 I don't usually comment on a book while I'm reading it. Often, I read them so quickly, there's no time or inclination. Sometimes, some books have lousy endings and that completely colors my rating of the book (Feed, I'm looking at you.) So far I've read just less than a fifth of the book. I love this book. I love the picture of the Lower East Side and Little Syria in 1899. I know from golems, but Chava is unique. I know jinni, djinni and ifrit, but not as well and nothing like Ahmad.

4/3/13 The ending of the book is completely satisfying, just like the rest of the book. Wecker left the door ajar that there could be a follow-up with these characters if the book is as wildly successful as I hope and believe the book could/ will be.

I enjoyed all the time that it took for the characters to meet, because it let me spend more time with the characters getting to know them as individuals. Chava is convinced she is a monster. I disagree; she is a good woman. Ahmad looks human, but he doesn't think that way, nor does he make the effort that Chava does to blend in.

It made me happy to spend so much time on the Lower East Side and Little Syria. The first place I thought I knew from fiction and movies, but I didn't know about the dancing palaces there. Little Syria is an insular place. I liked how the center of it seemed to be Maryam's café. I wonder if there is something magical about Maryam's ability to calm and soothe the patrons of her café? Ahmad works as a tinsmith and makes a spectacular topical map of Syria in the lobby of an apartment house. I would dearly love to see this, because the way Wecker described it sounds like it must be real.

I consider myself very, very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have read such a magical book. I believe you will also count yourself fortunate to have read it, if you give yourself the chance.

*Thank you Amazon Vine Program* for providing me a copy in return for an honest review.
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VINE VOICEon March 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I find it hard to categorize this wonderful first novel by Helene Wecker. It's part fantasy and part historical fiction, but at the same time it has a fairy tale-like quality about it. It's a story of two fish out of water, two mythical beings, drawn into real life turn-of-the-century New York city. One is the earthen-made Golem, from Jewish lore; the other a Jinni, born in the deepest deserts of Northern Africa.

Wecker exposes each story in parallel, bouncing back and forth between their respective histories and present; exploring their childlike naivete as they're exposed to more and more of modern life in a massive city.

Each has their own 'sponsor', the Golem is discovered by an aging retired rabbi, the Jinni by an introverted metalworker. Wecker does a terrific job teasing out each personality while revealing the cultural center that resides at each of their existences.

Wecker's narrative is very adult, but often reads like a childhood fable in structure. This book should appeal to any fan of literate historical fiction, but doesn't mind a bit of the fantastical. There are no medieval dragons and wizards, but more of a delightful bit of cultural magic.
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VINE VOICEon March 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Golem and the Jinni is one of those books that leaves an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you turn the last page because you've left the fantastical world that Wecker created and you will never be able to revisit it in quite the same way. You'll say to yourself, "I wish I could write something like that."
Wecker's novel combines the magical realm in which golems and jinnis exist with the turn of the century world of New York City with its enclaves of tenements and immigrants. The Jinni, a magical being of fire, finds Chava, a Jewish creature made of mud, and the adventure begins. Wecker explores what it is to be human through describing the interactions of these mythical creatures with New York citizens. After both the Jinni and the golem have been plunged into a strange new world, they attempt to find a purpose and the resultant happiness. The jinni becomes a tinsmith and the golem bakes bread and both create mayhem as they explore the world around them. Wecker throws a villain into the mix, one who is determined to control and use the creatures for his own purposes and now we have the makings of a great, creative story.
Wecker's prose flows expertly and transports the reader into another realm of existence. The story is believable despite the book's fantastical elements. It is filled with well developed characters who bring the story to life and momentarily take us away from our mundane existence. Take respite from the world you know and read The Golem and the Jinni.
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on April 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Flawless. I can't think of anything wrong with this novel for me to pick on. I kept thinking as I went "This is looking good so far, but she still has x number of pages to ruin it." The climax was not overly theatrical, and the epilogue was just sweet enough without being schmaltzy. The most dangerous literary pitfalls nimbly avoided, Helene Wecker managed to NOT ruin this excellent story, earning a five-star rating which I only give to books that are _perfect_. (Or are so mind-blowingly entertaining that the flaws don't matter)

It starts in Poland in 1899. Otto Rotfeld, a wealthy Prussian Jew, wants to go to America. He also wants a wife - but he has absolutely no way with women, so he hires a very creepy sorceror to make a golem for him: a female golem who can pass for human. Not to give too much away, Rotfeld dies during the voyage and the golem arrives in New York alone, without a master. She meets a rabbi who knows what she is, and they become friends. Meanwhile, a tinsmith in New York's "Little Syria" neighborhood unwittingly releases a jinni who had been imprisoned in an old oil flask the tinsmith was hired to repair.

The narrative focus shifts between the jinni and the golem in the present day, with a few diversions to observe some other important characters. There are also tidbits of the jinni's past, gradually revealing the sequence of events that led to his capture and enslavement more than 1,000 years ago. We also get glimpses into the creepy past of the old sorceror who made the golem.

The novel builds slowly. The author takes her time establishing the characters and setting up the scenario, but at no point did it seem slow or boring. This novel has been aptly compared to a folktale; there is a sort of Near-Eastern immigrant vivacity to the characters, and the magic has a feel of Kabbalistic authenticity.

There's an interplay of themes of love and life and death and freedom and responsibility between the selfish, freewheeling jinni and the prudish golem whose very nature requires her to care about others. The plight of women at the turn of the 20th century is a key element of the plot, but it is handled in a way that comes across as factual rather than political.

This book is entertaining and thoughtful and romantic, and in no way disappointing. I strongly recommend it.
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on May 12, 2013
First, let me say that I was worried about this having Twilight vibes -- "two people from separate worlds overcome their differences due to the power of love!" It's really not like that, though.

I enjoyed the focus on the Golem and the Jinni characters themselves more so than the story threads surrounding them, including Joseph (intentionally vague there). Because of this, I was completely enamored by the first half of the book and somewhat less taken in by the last half, when the whole adventure/conflict element comes to a head. Part of me wishes we, the readers, could have gotten a story just based around the mundanities of the Golem's and the Jinni's lives, somewhat reminiscent to that of Nathan Lowell's "Solar Trader" series; no real antagonist or lives at stake, just a quest of self-identity and finding their places in the world. I think that could be cool and satisfying.

Accordingly, I wish the epilogue would have gone on for much longer, because that was when my interest was renewed; the conflict had wrapped up, and we were back to a more low-key narrative.

I usually don't pay attention to writing. Typos and grammar mistakes don't really bother me, so long as I can discern what the author is trying to say. Because of that, I don't comment on the quality of writing in novels. However, I was really, really impressed by how well written this novel was. Very impressed. I realized that it's some of the best writing I've seen in a novel. What I found as equally as impressive, if not more so, was the depth and familiarity of each of the cultures in the book. I'm amazed at how immersed I felt with the cultures as well as the time period and location. So kudos to the author for that.

All in all, a great novel, and I'd recommend it to pretty much anyone.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I read *a lot* of books. I always have. I have found that, for me, there tend to be two different basic categories of books: First, those that are quick reads, very enjoyable, but not always lasting. Brain candy, if you will. The majority of books tend to fall into this category. Then there are the deeper, heavier books. Those that require the reader to slow down to properly enjoy the story, where reading too fast means finishing the book before you've properly digested it and ruminated on it. These kinds of books tend to be slightly more difficult to find, but leave you with a deep satisfaction. This second category is where The Golem and The Jinni falls.

Set in 1899 in New York, The Golem and The Jinni tells the story of Chava and Ahmad. Chava is a Golem, created in another country as a wife for a man who ultimately dies on the way to the New World. Ahmad is a Jinni, trapped in a bottle for untold years until accidentally set free by a man attempting to repair the bottle. Both are "impossible" creatures, both are adrift in their own ways and trying to get by in a place they neither asked to be, nor ever expected. And both are amazed when they accidentally meet one night on the streets of New York. Fire and earth, two compatible pieces of nature, they create a friendship - one that will be tested by their own natures as well as the appearance of another who seeks to control death itself.

This novel is an amazing debut. I have found that sometimes, if not most of the time, a book fails to live up to the hype. I'm thrilled that this story not only lived up to it, but surpassed it. The wordcrafting is beautiful - almost like a piece of music or a beautiful tapestry you can reach out and touch. The characters are special - not one of them fails to add something to the writing. New York, where the majority of the tale is set, is also a character with her own special graces and flaws. The history and the lore of these creatures, as well as the Jewish and Syrian communities, are all interwoven seamlessly. It's a fascinating combination of cultures and stories.

This a book that I will pass along to friends and family for them to read and enjoy. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
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on April 6, 2014
I was SO excited to dive into this one and I'm really disappointed. Let me start by saying that the book isn't badly written and the characters are nicely fleshed out. It very well might be a problem on my end. Up to a little more than half way through, the pace was kind of slow and I wasn't able to get into it. I couldn't for the life of me get into the Golem's story until the end. The Jinni's story is interesting and the bad guy is pretty bad but it felt like reading the encyclopedia, long and booooooring. I couldn't leave it half read but I was dying for it to end so I could move on to another book. It was not a definitive failure but a matter if taste. After passing the 80% mark, the pace picked up and all the loose ends were tied up nicely. The varied POVs came together nicely in the end. I don't know if it was a total redemption but it surely went a long way toward making up for the slow pace of the first half.

All in all not a "bad" book but because I was counting the pages hoping it would end, it gets 3 stars
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on June 26, 2013
The Golem and the Jinni more than lives up to the promise of its irresistible premise--two mythical beings with very different natures meet and form an uneasy bound in 1899 New York City. The Golem, a woman made of clay, was created by a former rabbi who dabbles in forbidden arts; the Jinni, a man made of fire, has been trapped inside a copper flask for a thousand years, but can't remember how he got there. United by a restlessness resulting from having to mask their true identities and make lives in a place that's foreign to both of them, the Golem and the Jinni spend the long nighttime hours roaming the immigrant neighborhoods of their adopted home together, but a menace from the past is stalking them.

The many strands of this story are slowly but mesmerizingly woven together, with some plot line connections not revealed until almost the end of the book. I haven't enjoyed a total immersion in such a rich and magic-tinged world since Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
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on March 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Helene Wecker's debut novel takes place in New York City around the turn of the century. The two main characters, a female golem and a male jinni, find themselves trying to survive and pass for human in a potentially hostile environment. Although their natures are quite different, it is their very otherness to the humans around them that draws them together.

While I found the book enjoyable and interesting from the beginning, it wasn't until I was fairly deep into its pages that I found "The Golem and the Jinni" truly compelling. I loved the exploration of different cultures in New York City as well as the jinni's back-story. I thought the minor characters were well-drawn and interesting. I'm hesitant to say too much because I don't want to spoil anything, but I really loved the way the golem's story and the jinni's story tied together. I'm not sure I quite "bought" the last couple of pages, but that's a minor quibble. All in all I found "The Golem and the Jinni" to be a highly original, well-written blend of historical and fantasy fiction.
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