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
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Helene Wecker has written an interesting and entertaining first novel. Her main characters are a Golem, Chava, and a Jinni, Ahmad, who are magical beings that look human but are not. The Golem is of Jewish origin and she is recognized for what she is by an old rabbi, who takes her in and continues to help her until he dies. The Jinni is from the ancient Bedouin lands of Syria. When he is unknowingly released from a battered copper container, he immediately accepts a position to do metalwork with a local tinsmith, Boutrous Arbeely. It is 1899 and these two magical creatures are living as immigrants in New York City. Like other immigrants they have to figure out how to survive through regular jobs and by making friends but discovery and violent response to them as monsters is a big danger. For Chava, a special risk lies in going amok in defense of threats to herself or her friends. For Ahmad, his penchant for seducing young women gets him in trouble. They are both trying to fit in and as they navigate their new lives they learn to control their true natures but ultimately nothing seems to give them contentment. Both are lonely and neither is truly happy.
Though the Golem and the Jinni find themselves on opposite ends, once they meet they come to realize they have more in common than might at first be apparent. Since neither sleeps they choose to discover the wonders of the city by night. They realize that because of their strange situations they can talk to each other in ways they can never disclose to others. Through their friendship Ahmad begins to provoke Chava by challenging her submissive nature. He stokes her curiosity but her reaction to his efforts results in disagreements between the two so that they argue often. Their back-and-forth banter is endearing and most entertaining. I couldn't help laughing after their 'hat conversation'. Despite their quarrels Ahmed continues to prod at Chava, daring her to explore and experience her desires and the larger world. Her nature is to serve and please people but Ahmed encourages Chava to be ‘free’.
In the meantime pieces of Ahmad’s lost memories begin to take shape and so he remembers the sins of his ancient past as well as the reason there is a bewitched band of iron around his wrist. The past comes to haunt both our main characters and for both, the biggest threat comes in the form of Chava’s powerful creator, a disgraced rabbi who practices the dark art of Kabbalistic magic and who comes to America caring only about finding the secret of eternal life.
This tale is enchanted with legend, lore and magic. Wecker’s cast of characters are well formed and each plays a unique and crucial part in this story. The action builds slowly and flows effortlessly from past to present and from character to character until suddenly you find yourself propelled into a whirlwind of an ending, which when it hits, it's non-stop until the end. You will find yourself rooting for Chava and Ahmed when inevitably they are forced to confront the evil that men do.
A fascinating concept, wonderfully executed. This beautifully written novel tells the story of two non-human characters who join their human counterparts, immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York City, as they all attempt to find their way in a strange new world. They are surrounded by an impressive cast of supporting characters, and the city itself comes alive with such detail. I loved everything about this story!!! It was completely engaging, from beginning to end. Hope to see more from this author.
I liked to premise using the Golem & Jinni. Part folklore, part theological argument, part supernatural, the story takes place primarily in turn of the century New York City. I looked at this for awhile before deciding to listen. Drawn to the Golem & Jinni concept & George Guidall happens to be one of my favorite narrators. This is a very entertaining, thought provoking listen.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a perfect escape from the drudgeries of daily life. I listened to it as I drove to and from work and found myself in New York along with the characters. I was riveted and found the narrator to be an excellent reader. The pace was perfect for the characters presented. If you like fantasy, fairy tales and mythology, get this book; you won't be disappointed. If, however, you are looking for adventure, danger and thrills a-plenty, look elsewhere. This book is a slow build-up to a fantastical time and place, with a miss-mash of folklore, fiction and fact. It was cleverly written and I look forward to more of the same from the author.
Custom jewelry designer who listens to books while she works.
There was a fairly well developed background of immigrant life in New York in 1900's, but it did not overshadow the story. It was interesting to see the unusual character's perspective on the "modern western lifestyle" etc.
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.
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.
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.
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