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
This is by far the best book I've listened to all year, and I listen a lot. I recommend it with enthusiasm.
Even though the book's main characters are two supernatural creatures, the book is not "about" their supernatural powers and how they use them. Instead, it's about assimilating - how each of these creatures attempts to make a life in New York City in 1900 and tries to fit in as human.
The story is fascinating, alternating between the experiences of the golum and the jinni as they each try to come to terms with their environment, both alone and after they meet each other. They, and the people they meet, are given full back stories (well, except what the Jinni can't remember but eventually it is revealed), but it's never boring and the story never drags. The author builds suspense so gradually that you don't even realize it, but in the back of your mind you know "something" has to happen. As the gaps are filled in and the connections become tighter, you wonder how in the world could anyone think of this?
As the climax approaches and the story's elements weave together, it becomes apparent that the story is really about free will and destiny. The golum is certain that her true nature is to be bound, and so she tries to behave as a bound person would, within the context of her accidental and scary freedom. The jinni is certain that his nature is to be free, so he behaves in as free a manner as he can, in the context of his aggravating and unwanted bounds.
In the end, the golum comes to understand that to be free is wonderful, and that the self-imposed constraints to freedom are far better than to be bound by, and to, evil. The jinni comes to understand that freedom comes with responsibility, and to be bound to community and friendship is no hardship but actually an honor.
The narrator is excellent and brings the story to life. It was a joy from start to finish.
One of the top 10
I loved the mix of fictional characters, both indifferent cultures, coming together in a familiar place and time.
My favorite was the Jinni because he was so temperamental.
When a path that couldn't be followed got crossed and ended up destiny.
The story kept me interested from beginning to end. The mix of the two fictional characters and such different cultures in a familiar place and time made the story so full of turns. I did not guess the ending but I knew it was going to all come together. It was also performed very well by George Guidall and that was very important.
As unbelievable as the premise sounds, you will grow to love and understand these extraordinary characters. Chava is a golem, made of clay to be a biddable stepford wife and Ahmad is the Jinn, made of fire who values his freedom above all. Their lives intertwine in the melting pot of immigrant life in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.
Their journey of self discovery, the description of immigrant life in New York, the mythical aspect of the Arabic and Jewish cultures, the believability and depth of the supporting characters, the taut build of the conflicts and the satisfying resolutions make this an outstanding book. One of the best I've read in years.
George Guidall's performance is outstanding. He never over emotes or over acts yet he manages to convey the emotional senses of every character.
I can't put my finger on why this book feels comforting but it created that feeling in me. Do not miss this book, it is wonderful. I will listen to it over and over again. It is going in my favorite books of all time. The narrator fit the story perfectly. The Golem and the Jinni has me searching through audible's list of books George Guidall has narrated and impatiently waiting for Helene Wecker to write another book.
My first line of this review states that I found the book comforting. I have to say I do not know why. This book deals with immigrants traveling and starting life in America. There is a lot of turmoil in the human characters as well as the Golem and the Jinni. There is something wonderful about the use of legend and mysticism in this book. The magic in the book is well researched and lends to these mystical beings being just as displaced as any other immigrant and finding their way to create a life in America. In some ways being mystical really is little different, every immigrant is in a strange land and clings to what community they have; searching for something or someone like them.
The twists and turns in this book are enjoyable. I loved learning the backstory of how the Golem was created and the history of the Jinni. You learn of this as it is relevant to the current/main story. I don't want to give anything away. Read this book or listen to this book. You won't regret it. I have to say I am sure I would have loved the book if I read it but Helene Wecker's writing and George Guidall's narration compliment one another so well that I am grateful I got it on Audible. I think George Guidall enhanced the experience.
This is a wonderful book. It's well written, well narrated and pulls you right in. This book is so thorough in all its descriptions that you feel like you are sucked back in time. You can easily imagine being in the dessert, Syria, a boat treaking to America and the little villages of New York. I was shocked how much I came to care for the golem. I wish this were a series, but I can't see anywhere that it's going to be.
Helene Wecker's re-creation of early 20th c New York City alone would be worth the listen, but add a touch of mystical Judaism, multiple ethical quandaries, and two wonderfully conceived and developed otherworldly characters and you have a truly fascinating tale. But fair warning: this is an Audible title that may keep you up until 2 or 3 a.m. All in all, this is an amazing first novel by a supremely gifted (and hopefully prolific) writer.
Reader George Guidall was the perfect choice to narrate.
I would rate this among the best I've listened to. The story captured me from the first few paragraphs and the reader is excellent at bringing the characters to life. I listen while driving and always looked forward to getting back in the car so I could continue the story.
Highly recommend this book.
This is a compelling story with an excellent narrator. Readers will learn about golems and genies as well as getting a flavor of old New York in the 19th century.
"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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