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
Absolutely! Wonderful story, characters and questions of existence. This was such a delightful surprise since I had not heard of the author before or read reviews of the book. George Guidall is one of my favorite narrators and is once again excellent
I will listen to NO boring book. Old Fav's,Card, King , Hobb. New Fav's, Hill, Scalzi, Sawyer, Interested in Lansdale, Crouch, Konrath
I had to get this because of all the great reviews. Once again I did not dig deep enough. Through the first half this was an excellent story with an excellent narrator. The story had a fairy, fantastical feel with a historical aspect to it. The development of the Golem and her reaction to the world were wonderful. At first the Jinni was a separate story, with an Aladdin type of feel. Both characters were opposites in nature. There were some jerky transitions in times and places, but not bad enough to ruin the story.
Some interesting things happen when they get to New York City. In New York we meet some nice American characters. We also get a feel for the horrifying way in which immigrants had to enter through Ellis Island and how strange the New World would have felt for them. We also see how hard it was for new people and not everyone was so inviting. Then in the middle of the book one of the sub characters die and the mood of the book changed. The Jinni and the Golem meet and they start taking long walks together. My wife saw the movie Tess, I did not, but she said it was boring and all they did was take long walks and talk, talk ,talk. This turns into that. There was the beginning of the development of a bad guy and I thought that would be interesting, but it took forever. This novel was in strong need of an editor. I am not sure the editor read the manuscript all the way through. The book turns into a soap opera and the magical feel it had earlier goes out the window. With four hours and forty minutes left, I gave up. I had suffered through several hours of dialogue and soap operaness and lost patience.
George Guidall adds class to everything he narrates, for a debut novel to score one of the best was very lucky for Wecker.
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.
This novel easily ranks among the top 5% of audio books. George Guidall is undeniably the best male narrator. He savors words and breaths life into phrases. His timing and rhythm is impeccable. (I buy some audio books just to hear Guidall's wonderful voice.)
But, the story and plot is equally entrancing. It is an original novel, with unique characters, colorful history, and interesting introduction to Jewish mysticism and Bedouin myths. The characters are believable and develop well throughout the story. Do pay attention to the little details. They matter.
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.
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 am an avid "reader"- I prefer to listen to books rather than read them due to the added dimension added by the narrator.
fantasy, brilliance, intrigue
I loved everything about this story. The character development was very good. I don't think I could have had the reaction to this book without George Guidall's incredible narration. I've heard him before and marvel at his talent with voices and intonation.
This book ties together a thousand years and whips back and forth between characters and events... looking inside the mind of the protagonists and actually allowing the reader to contemplate the meaning of life and the lives of the characters in the context of a wildly entertaining twist and turn intrigue. Loved the ending but not giving it away.
Everything. This man is brilliant and I will choose my books backwards in order to listen to his wonderful voice.
Run don't walk to download this book... I had to sit in the car and be late for appointments so that I could hear what was going to happen! The sign of an excellent audiobook. I will probably listen to it a second time to get all the characters and events straight.
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.
If you claim you like fantasy but you don't like this book, then what you like is silly wizards and hot werewolf-on-chick action, or else secondary world fantasy with elves and dragons and lost swords, etc., which is all well and good but I'm gonna be totally judgmental about any so-called fantasy fan who doesn't like this book because it's "too long" or too "slow-moving" or whatever stupid reason it failed to score with you. The Golem and the Jinni is a carefully constructed modern fable written as seriously as any historical literary fiction. The main characters, two creatures right out of Jewish and Arabic myth, blend perfectly into this novel of early 20th century New York. What is more fantastic than that?
It's a rich book, reading at times like one of those sweeping classic character epics like Middlemarch or Les Miserables (but not as wordy and with far less infodumping). There are a fairly large number of characters, each with a character arc that runs the length of the book, eventually tying into the resolution.
We start in 1899 in Poland with an unpleasant fellow who has been successful in business but due to being a poorly socialized schmuck, unsuccessful in matrimony. Rather than figuring out how to woo the ladies properly, he gets the bright idea to go to a local rabbi rumored to know dark Kabbalistic magic, and asks him to make him a wife.
Helene Wecker does a wonderful job of describing just the sort of loser who'd buy a RealDoll. Since this is 1899, he buys a golem instead.
Unlike RealDolls, golems can walk, talk, and think. They have their own personalities and desires — a fact upon which much of what follows hinges, as the golem's master-to-be specifies "curiosity" along with "modesty" and "obedience" for his clay bride.
Unfortunately, there is also another little detail from Jewish legends that Helene Wecker weaves skillfully into the story: deep down, golems are murderous creatures who will eventually turn on their masters and have to be destroyed.
Golem legends were of course the precursor to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Chava is not nearly so tragic — she awakens in the hold of a ship (her "husband" couldn't wait), but when her "husband" dies, she finds herself alone in New York City — obedient, modest, and curious. She knows what she is, but not what to do with herself. She is constructed such that she can pass as a human, so she manages, awkwardly, to integrate herself into New York's Jewish immigrant community, finding that her tirelessness and precision makes her very good at useful skills like baking and sewing.
Meanwhile, in the Syrian immigrant community, a tinsmith named Boutros Arbeely is brought an old copper flask to repair. He manages to open it and release a jinni who's been trapped in the flask for a thousand years. "Ahmad," as he calls himself, has a very different personality than Chava. He is a creature of fire and caprice, bound to a human form. He's not evil or cruel, but he's used to doing what he pleases without worrying about consequences. His jinni powers make him an able assistant to Boutros Arbeely, but the mundanity of life among humans is soon driving him mad.
Eventually, by chance, the golem and the jinni meet. They are both the ultimate foreigners in a sea of immigrants. Despite being from different worlds, they understand each other better than even the few humans who know their natures can. Their friendship is perfect, awkward, believable, and of course, it gets sorely tested.
As a fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni succeeds because it makes golems and jinni fit in a perfectly believable fashion into the tapestry of early 20th century life. It's not a "secret wizarding world" setting — it's just a world where some of those old legends might actually be true. There aren't vampires and faeries and wizards everywhere, but here and there, if you look for it, there's a bit of magic. The magic isn't the point, though it's much more than just an incidental background detail. The natures of the golem and the jinni and the magic that forms them play critical roles in the climax, but this is a character-driven novel. Chava and Ahmad are both great protagonists. Chava is wise and kind and well-intentioned, but she's not a perfect helpmate — she becomes frustrated and bored with people, and deep in her heart is that murderous golem nature she's not yet even aware of. Ahmad is kind of a jerk — he likes building pretty things, seducing mortal women, and then moving on — but forced to live on the ground among mankind, he's also forced to confront their reactions to his actions. He's still impatient, petty, and arrogant, but he's not without scruples or compassion.
The secondary characters fill in the edges of the story. "Ice Cream Saleh," a one-time learned physician possessed by an evil spirit, cursed to never look another person in the face until he sees a man of flame on the streets of New York City. The kindly Rabbi Meyer, who recognizes Chava for what she is, and his nephew Michael, an apostate Jew who runs a shelter for new immigrants and falls in love with Chava, having no idea what she is. There are many other characters whose stories intersect Chava's and Ahmad's, ending with a confrontation with Chava's creator, who has a connection to the events Ahmad has forgotten that sealed him in his flask a thousand years ago.
This is Helene Wecker's debut novel, but I would never have thought it was a first novel. And unlike so many debut fantasy novels, it's entirely self-contained. Wecker probably could write a sequel, but I think rather than simply continuing the story of Chava and Ahmad, she'd do much better to write another book like this but with a completely different setting and characters. I will definitely read it!
This is the sort of thick, juicy fantasy that should appeal to all fans of thick juicy fantasies and historical fiction alike. Rich in characters and setting details, judicious about using magic as a plot device, not a character, a mystical force that doesn't need to be meticulously systemitized to make sense. The Golem and the Jinni is literary fantasy that doesn't fill its pages with unnecessary side trips into some hidden magical world just to detail other creatures; it spends its time on character development and describing a vivid turn-of-the-century New York populated by immigrants of all kinds. My highest recommendation!
George Guidall is one of my favorite narrators, and once again he delivers an excellent performance for a weighty historical epic.
Myst/thrillers and ✨fun fantasies✨are my favorites but always open for a good story.
This book starts out as two separate stories, one of a Jin (genie), the other of a Golum ( a being made from the earth but looks human). Both seem to go against the norm of their predisposed brutal reputation. They are innocents hungry for knowledge and work while harboring a feeling of loneliness because neither are living the existence they were meant to. They are lucky to be taken in by two separate men who are each as kind as the other and want the best for them.
In early New York a dark fairy tale like listen unfolds as we travel through the mystery that surrounds the creation and past of these two fabled entities. A quarter way into the book they unexpectedly cross each others paths and immediately recognize their strange similarities. A much needed friendship starts for these two lonely beings, but because of their friendship and, unknown to them connection, they could stand to be each others undoing.
Ups and downs, discoveries and diverse characters keeps the story moving forward with a good mixture of events to keep a connection to the listener. Guidall 's wonderful annunciation of each characters verbiage is of course vital to the pace, and he is just stellar with his, not over the top women characters, and believable dark-siinister villains. I don't think I would have enjoyed this book as much without his narration.
"Fascinating magical tale"
„The Golem and the Jinni“ is one of those rare books that completely draws you into its world. In her first published novel Helene Wecker creates a magical setting, beginning at the turn of the century in Poland and then she brings New York and its inhabitants to life. Combined with old Arabian and Jewish folk tales, she had me hooked until the last page was read – at the same time wishing for a magical book that would never end.
Two mystical beings live among humans, trying to survive without being notice, blend in but not lose themselves. Chava (= life) is a golem and was created by rabbi in Poland who liked meddling with the dark arts, is “curious and intelligent”, as her master had requested. Ahmad is a fire jinni who was trapped in an old copper flask, released by chance in New York but is still bound by an old spell.
Both do not really fit into human society and often feel lonely, especially at night when nearly everyone around them is asleep. Surrounding them is a colourful mix of all classes of New York’s society at that time.
Chava was created to serve, to please her master. Unfortunately he already died on the voyage to New York, or maybe fortunately for her? She herself is never certain, because her unusual intelligence and perceptiveness for human needs put her into a permanent vicious circle. There is one episode when she tries to find out what “money” is, as this must be more important to humans than everything else….
And this explains one of the reasons why I was so fascinated with this book. It is a moving tale of two outsiders who can never really fit in. Who look at our human society from a totally different angle. Who must make their way in a world totally foreign to them, even more than to all the other immigrants coming to New York. Both are very different from us humans and in some ways not so very different at all. They could live forever – but they want to do so? Chava yearns for a master, the jinni for freedom. She was made of clay, feels cold to the touch, he was created of fire and has a fierce temper, too.
The other figures show other facets of human life, a kind old rabbi, a vicious magus, a young woman from New York’s high society, a bedouin girl and her father… The tale of each figure is told with utmost sensitivity, letting all of them come to life and stay in my memory for a long time.
Some elements reminded me of the books by Deborah Harkness who also expertly lets her magical beings move in our human world, creating characters that seem like real persons after a few chapters.
“The Golem and the Jinni” is one of the best stories I have read in a long time, with magical and oh so human characters, letting me walk the streets of a long vanished New York and wishing them all the happiness in the world. A magical, moving, sometimes humours tale. I hope Helene Wecker will continue writing and look forward to reading her next novel.
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