Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, 2014
Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. 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 this strange new place, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their neighbors while masking their true natures. Surrounding them is a community of immigrants: the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.
Meeting by chance, the two creatures 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 listenable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
©2013 Helene Wecker (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers
I was very excited to read this book based on the number of high reviews. It is not the genre of book that I didn't care for but rather the style of the writing. The mystical and historical parts of the story were fascinating. However, the flow of the story made it a painful read. I mostly listen while commuting. The story didn't seem to come together until the middle of the book. The beginning was rather dull and several times while listening I needed to switch to music just to stay awake. By the middle of the book the characters became more interesting and listening became more enjoyable. Overall, a different book and somewhat interesting but definitely not a riveting tale.
No. Story was hum-drum. Some of the prose was entertaining, but I got the impression that the author did not do a great job of thinking out how the characters would interact or how the story line could have been better with the given characters.
Get "Anansi Boys" for an extremely satisfying experience. That and "The Help" are the best two books on Audible.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This book has been getting some buzz lately. While I'm not as gushy about it as the majority seem to be (for reasons I'll get to in a bit), it's a nice work of urban fantasy, with a creative premise and a level of writing that's a cut above the norm. The setting is a lyrical New York City circa 1900, with its patchwork communities of immigrants and workers, its seedy, dangerous neighborhoods, and its idle, wealthy aristocracy walled off in their palatial estates. Into this storied place come two creatures out of myth. One is a golem, a woman made from clay by an unsavory old man with knowledge of the occult arts, then given life-like features. She is brought into existence in Poland to serve as a wife for a sad sack of a man who is about to use the last of his squandered family fortune to emigrate to the US. However, he dies midway through the ocean voyage, leaving the golem to continue on her own, masterless, after the boat docks at Ellis Island.
The other lead character is the jinni, a being of fire who was captured by a Syrian wizard, fixed in human form, then imprisoned in a flask. Centuries later, a metalsmith living in a Syrian neighborhood of New York accidently releases him.
Wrecker does a lovely job with her creations' personalities. The golem, based on the robot-like creature of Jewish legend, has a stolid, practical temperament, and struggles to navigate the confusing human world without a master to give her direction. Instead, she finds herself animated by the needs of *everyone* around her -- though they pull in such conflicting directions, the net effect is a sort of free will. For her, being a capable worker, it's a world she can find a place in, but not one where she feels entirely happy or safe.
The Jinni on the other hand, is a tempestuous, restless being, capable of making a good living as a craftsman, but too independent to take direction well and easily frustrated by the rigid social rules of the human world. He takes to wandering the streets at night, making new acquaintances in both low and high places, and searching for secrets about his forgotten past. Naturally, these two protagonists encounter each other, and develop a friendship that starts in mutual curiosity, then continues through mutual exasperation, then deepens as they begin to expand each other's understanding of the world and their lives intertwine with the humans around them. It's a lovely odd-couple story, helped even more by audiobook narrator George Guidall’s capable reading of the two central personas.
The novel's strength lies in Wrecker’s unhurried, descriptive passages, which beautifully evoke turn-of-20th-century urban America, the noise of trains, the grit and grime of cobblestone streets, the daily hustles, worries, and woes of her characters, and the general press and jostle of humanity. The two inhuman protagonists both have their own perspectives on this world, on relationships, religion, morality, and two separate immigrant communities that exist streets away, but worlds apart. It’s fun to watch their views play off each other, never quite agreeing, but deepening one another.
However, I found other aspects of the book underwhelming. The side characters aren’t very interesting. After the midpoint of the story, the fantasy elements begin to dominate the plot and the drama becomes a little forced. The action in the final chapters unfolds in somewhat of a jumbled, rushed way. More attention from an editor would have helped.
For me, though, the strengths of this one outdo the weaknesses. If you like novels that mix history, magic realism, and escapism, check it out. 3.5 stars.
I really really loved this book, and I loved the narration of this book. There was really no point in the book where I knew what was going to happen, but that was okay because the author did not leave me sitting on pins and needles waiting for the end to occur. Each part of the book was a joy to listen to, whether or not the part was relevant to the ultimate conclusion. The details were so plainly and beautifully given, without being gratuitous or rambling.
I am so impressed with this author. Quite unbelievable that this was her first book. The overall tone and feel to her book reminded me of "The Book Thief" which was equally wonderful, and likewise was the author's first book.
It has been since "The Book Thief" that I listened to a story so poignantly written and so convincingly told.
Really fantastic! I cannot wait to her next book comes out.
I'd heard a lot of very good things about this one, and it mostly held up to them. It's the latest in a line of recent "fantasy for grown-ups" books, and it falls between Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore -- to pick a couple at the extremes of quality. This has all the ambition of the books of its sort -- a clever setting with the addition of some thoughts on the nature of immigrant life almost a century ago -- and it's solidly written. Parts go on a bit long, and it doesn't resolve itself with quite the satisfaction of the best in the genre, but it's still fun. It falls short of The Midnight Circus, say, but so do most books. I'd like to have seen it move more quickly once it established its characters (and there's an overly neat coming together of seemingly separate threads) but I do recommend it.
The narrator really brought the characters to life. His accents were great, and this helped to provide you with an immersion experience. This is an atmospheric, period piece so this was important.
I found it similar to the book Chocolat, which also involved fantasitical, magical and mystical happenings.
This is the first time I've listened to this narrator, but it definitely won't be my last time. He is very, very good, and his character accents are spot on.
The Jinni would be an interesting dinner companion. Although he seems self-centered and gruff, I believe the culture of the Jin made him the way he is. He proved himself to be selfless and caring at the end of the book, and exhibited many redeeming qualities.
I got a bit confused about 3/4 of the way through though, where the story lines of several of the characters past and current converged. The pace of the story seemed kind of rushed at this point too, which made it difficult to follow. At this point this action picked up dramatically, and I was having trouble remembering who people were, their relationships, and how their past histories came to play in current events.
Overall, I found it to very entertaining story.
When reviewing books I try to be fair; I appreciate that not everyone will be looking for the same things in a book.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is the story of, well, a golem and a jinni who find themselves in turn of the century New York. Recently awoken/liberated respectively they must find their feet in and adapt to the New World while avoiding threats which could destroy them.
First of all, I would like to say just how much I loved this story. I loved the characters, the narrative, the setting. What I found rather interesting was the fact that, had the golem and the jinni been just ordinary immigrants instead of supernatural creatures, 80% of the story could have remained unchanged. It is much more a story of new immigrants to the States adapting to their new lives and country and friendships formed than a fantastical tale of the supernatural. That is not to say that the element of the fantastical did not add an extra layer of depth to the tale, but it is well grounded in reality.
What I liked
The characters. All the characters were beautifully written, from our two protagonists down to “Ice Cream Salah.” Due to circumstances beyond their control, the golem and the jinni find themselves alone in turn of the century New York and have to fit in with the local community to survive. Their personalities match what you might expect from immigrants from Poland and Syria. Our golem is obedient, modest, faithful and curious. This is presumably what is considered culturally normal for a young Polish woman of the time, based on the desires of her first master.
The jinn on the other hand comes across as a rather chauvinistic, arrogant man who is used to a far higher status that that which he finds as a lowly Syrian immigrant in New York.
This characterisation colours their actions and their thoughts, which is why the novel could easily work as the tale of two immigrants. They even have the golem go through Ellis Island to cement further the immigrant theme.
I also enjoyed the developing relationship between the golem and jinni and the way that all the characters are interconnected.
The narrative. The narrative is rather slow paced, concentrating on character and setting development. Although this is primarily an immigrant story, that’s not to say I didn’t really enjoy the fantasy element. Even Sophia’s arc, while it contains an element of the supernatural, can be likened a similar, more realistic situation, and her reactions are very believable.
The setting. Wecker describes turn of the century New York and the various subcultures (Syrian, Yiddish) living there wonderfully. I felt as if I were walking the streets with the golem and the jinni.
The foreshadowing. This is most notable in the case of the golem. Right from the beginning of the book the reader is made aware of the threats of and to our golem. The fact that the instrument of the golem’s destruction is out there in the world adds a nice layer of narrative tension to the novel. The idea of the golem herself’s being dangerous is nicely handled. When it is first brought up, it creates a very interesting dichotomy. From what we know of the golem at that time, she seems the very opposite of dangerous. She is shy, obedient and desperate to please – the very essence of non-threatening. It does lead the reader to question why her creator believes her to be so dangerous.
The narration. The narration is handled by George Guidall and it was very enjoyable. His slow, easy way of talking made me feel as if he were reading me a bedtime story.
What I didn’t like
There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about The Golem and the Jinni. It’s definitely worth picking up.
I gave The Golem and the Jinni five stars out of five
Definitely in the top ten!
Loved them all but the jinni was someone I identified with in some ways so was my favorite.
I love a skilled voice actor that can capture the mood and emotion of a book like this and really engage me in the book even now some time later I can recall the jinni and his often bemused and sometimes baffled tone while addressing the many strange customs of the new world he finds himself in.
The jinni for sure, if you could get him to tell you tales of hundreds of years living in a world of spirits and elemental creatures that would be awesome!
This was probably not a book I would have bought on the publishers description alone but the personal reviews were so positive that I took a chance and was very happy that I did. I have already recommended this to several of my friends as a story this well told crosses genres in its ability to grab hold of a reader and keep them there.
I loved this book. The two main characters, a Golem (a woman formed from mud) and a Jinni arrive in 1899 New York City. The story involves both of them needing to hide their true natures and we meet the people who help them succeed. The story takes place in the Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods in New York City. The story speaks for itself so I think that's all I say. It isn't fantasy, it isn't reality. It is what it is. The narrator, George Guidall, is superb.
My only criticism, and the reason I gave the story 4 stars instead of 5, is that it took too long for the Golem and the Jinni to meet and for their stories to meld. And one or two too many characters I cared about died. But that is life in a big city, even in 1899 I suppose.
It was original and very well written. A story that draws you in and keeps you until the very last page- wishing it wouldn't end. I love books like that- it doesn't happen often enough!
I kept wondering how the author came up with the idea for this story - it's so unique. She does a good job of keeping you guessing. Also of making you really care about the characters and what happens to them. It's a fantastical story, obviously, but done in a way so that it never seems silly or too far-fetched.
I haven't heard any other George Guidall's performances, but he was fantastic! Very distinct voices for each character that fit them very well- even with accents and female voices. There was never any confusion about who was speaking, which can happen if the performer is not very good.
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