- Series: P.S.
- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (December 31, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062110845
- ISBN-13: 978-0062110848
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2,578 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – Deckle Edge, December 31, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: Imaginative and meticulously researched, this enchanting debut novel from Helene Wecker is, in reality, an historical fiction. Set primarily in turn-of-the-century Manhattan, it deliberately details the immigrant experience--the wonders and hardships of being in a new country and the discoveries, triumphs, and failures that follow--while bringing the city itself to life with such passion that New York of yore seems like a magical land. Beyond reality, however, The Golem and the Jinni, as the title implies, is also a fantastic work of fantasy. The Golem is an insatiably curious clay "woman" that was created to seem human while serving only her husband; the Jinni is a magical "man" whose fascination with mortals has left him nearly stripped of his own nature and forced to live as one. These mythical characters from otherwise clashing cultures not only coexist, but come to rely upon one another in order to exist at all. In turn, their story finds us not only rooting for them to find peace and happiness, but gaining a better understanding of our own human nature in the process. --Robin A. Rothman--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
First novelist Wecker has blended not only genres but also elements of Jewish and Arab folklore and mythology in this intriguing historical fantasy. What happens when a golem, a Polish woman made of clay, recently marooned in late-nineteenth-century New York, joins forces with jinni, a creature made of fire, accidently released by a Syrian tinsmith in lower Manhattan? The premise is so fresh that it is anyone’s guess, and Wecker does not disappoint as she keeps the surprises coming in this unusual story of the intersection of two magical beings and their joint impact on their parochial immigrant communities. While stolid Chava and fiery Ahmed struggle to cope with their individual challenges and desires, they must together overcome philosophical, spiritual, and physical hurdles to ward off an insidious demonic threat. A mystical and highly original stroll through the sidewalks of New York. --Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
The Golem and the Jinni are tied to their natures. They develop in fun ways over the course of the book. Yet, given their origins, they have to integrate those changes into a specific mindset. It is interesting how human they become when they should be detached from everyone around them. Obviously, I loved the main characters. They drive the book along. The supporting cast is just as strong. We don't get to see quite as much about them, but their impact is just as important on the story.
The writing itself is wonderful. Wecker gives life to a late 19th century Manhattan. I could picture the world the characters moved in very easily. The characters are the strongest fixtures, although the structures, sounds, and scents that are evoked round things out. And the pacing is great. I kept wanting to read more of the book. I can't recall any points where it lost my interest. Despite the fantastic elements, this book is about the lives of the characters. It does round itself out in a way that is satisfying. I wish I could read more, but I'll have to settle for rereading it sometime.
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.
Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
What a wonderful book. So many complicated, diverse elements woven together to make this story. Jewish folk-tale, Arabian Nights, emigration to New York, terrible poverty, history of New York City.
The plot is complex, the characters so well developed you'd swear you've met them in person.
This appears to be a first novel and I am going to watch this writer's career with a great deal of interest.
One of the things that stands out for me is the worldbuilding. The author has clearly done a lot of research regarding setting, culture, and activities/behaviors of different groups of people, and it shows. Naturally, turn-of-the-century (that is, circa 1900) New York is the most richly-imagined location because the majority of the book takes place there. But we also get a sense of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and of Syria (both late 1800's Syria and the desert from many centuries before that, including the Bedouins who traveled the desert). I thought the details were well-integrated into the book. I never felt like information was being dumped.
Another aspect of the book I thought was excellent was the way the Golem of the title served as a proxy for the reader to learn about the city. She was awakened on a ship crossing the Atlantic (not really a spoiler as it happens in the first or second chapter) so she has no experience of anything prior to the voyage. She is sensitive to the feelings of others and has to learn how to control herself in the presence of others who are harboring strong emotions -- she doesn't understand, at first, that it's considered improper to steal food and give it to a hungry person. She also requires explanations of things that someone familiar with the city (or human society, for that matter) wouldn't require, and she has to learn even the most basic things -- for example, that if she walks around the city with muddy boots and a wet dress, people will take notice.
Of the two title characters, the Golem was the most sympathetic to me. Perhaps because she had the most to lose -- what's made can be unmade. The Jinni was a little more rash, a little less careful. Granted, he had a male form and the dictates of society at the time were such that men had a lot more freedom. And he was already bound in human form (again, not really a spoiler as this information is given very early in the book), so he had little else to lose. I suppose it was also in the characters' natures -- a Golem is made to serve a master, whereas a Jinni would naturally be free and might move from place to place to explore.
Early in the book, we basically alternate between chapters about the Golem and chapters about the Jinni, mostly in New York. Occasionally, there will be a chapter or scene about another character (Yehudah Schaalman, an elderly Jewish man from the Old World; Fadwa, a Bedouin girl from a thousand years before the story was set; Mahmoud Saleh, a Syrian doctor down on his luck; Sophia Winston, a New York heiress). And the Golem and Jinni interact with others in their communities, including the people who took them in (for the Golem, an aging rabbi, and for the Jinni, a Syrian tinsmith).
At first, I would wonder why these side characters (not the mentors, but the others) were getting so much time on the page. But it turns out that each one of them interacts with one or more of the title characters at key points. When I went back and thought about it, I realized that the scenes from other points of view were in just the right places in a temporal sense (i.e., chronologically in the story) as well as in a narrative sense (giving the necessary information at the right time in the story). So the story was definitely well-planned.
The writing did its job -- it told the story without being intrusive. I didn't come across expressions that broke immersion (sadly, the same can't be said for some other books I've read lately -- so this one was a welcome change).
Magic in this book is both cultural and religious. Obviously, Golems come from Jewish lore and Jinnis are from the Arab world. Other types of magical workings are hinted at, but the clearest picture and the cross-cultural aspect really doesn't emerge until very late in the book (so I won't say any more about that).
This is not really a book with a lot of action. Yes, some exciting/dangerous events do occur. But I had read at least 1/3 of the book before I realized I still had no idea what the plot was going to be. I guess I was so immersed in the world the author had created that those pages flew by. However, when I got to the end, it became obvious that the author HAD been setting up the final confrontation all along, just in a subtle way. I was not bored at all by the slow start; like I said, I barely even realized it until I'd already read a good chunk of the book. (It's a pretty long book at 646 pages in my Kindle edition. But I read it in 2 days, nonetheless.)
Some aspects of the ending were sad, many were unexpected, and some offered hope. I suppose you could call it bittersweet. I think it was definitely fitting. It's my understanding that this was a debut novel and yet it imparts the feeling of having come from a more experienced author. In the end, I'm definitely glad I read this and I will look for other books from the same author.