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.
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.
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.
I enjoyed this book mostly because of the characters -- they were real, with flaws and strengths. The writing was smart and I found myself really caring about what happened to the characters.
The story was also interesting - for me it was unique, having only read a few stories with Jin and Golems, so the world was still newish for me.
The pace was decent - a tad slow in parts - and the author's writing style is smart. She uses dialog between characters to build the story, which I think always makes for a better read.
I'm looking forward to the next installment (I hope there is one...)
The setting, character development, human insights, and narrator all made this book a wonderful listen. There was a gentle, penetrating quality which made this book particularly enjoyable after listing to other fantasy novels which contained a lot of violence. A remarkable first novel.
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