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
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.
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.
I love to read, but I am time-limited. Audible allows me to keep up with all my favorite authors while on the hiking trail. Thanks, Audible!
This is a fantastic exploration of (1) what is one's nature and (2) how to accept it. This book does a great job exploring life, love, and responsibility by providing a platform for a methodological Golem and an irresponsibility Jin to try to go unnoticed in human society and find fulfillment.
Middle-aged, married dad of two, living in Northern Burbs of Chicago. Hard Sci Fi addict, and lover of great storytelling. Almost all of my reading is now in audio format.
Uniquely imperfect characters that don't fit the cookie cutter.
Inventive concept. VERY tough to do these days.
All that going for it, but honestly. I think the story could have been told with about a third less page count.
Smart, unexpected, astute
The scene in dance hall was brilliant: incisively drawn, it evoked the movement and joy of the two main characters in magical words.
It is as though he is reading a folk tale and it is a perfect style for this story--the dramatic pauses and voices he lends to the characters are extremely effective, though I would also be happy to read it in print, too.
I was transfixed by Ice Cream Saleh, with his history as a physician and transformation to an ice cream vendor in New York, then the recovery of his sight through his exorcism. As with nearly all the characters, his is finely wrought, and Ms. Wecker deftly portrays just the right amount of detail so the reader can ably fill in the shadows.
Just a great listen--I highly recommend it.
Mother of teenaged bear, Wife to chaos, Warrior
There are some books that just read this one unfolds. Helene Wecker weaves a great story with back grounds and deep characterizations. It was fascinating but very long. I found that I was pushing towards the end. This book wasn't long and boring. It was just long I wanted the characters to have a great climax but when I got there it fizzled. Not in a bad way it just wasn't a great as I expected. the narration was very good but not spectacular and i believe this drew away from "something" from the climax.
I read and listen to books. I drink tea. I sleep like a cat and wished I lived in Hawaii.
This book was a fairytale to me, a very adult and gotham fairytale. I loved the story of the golem more at first, but as the story went on I became very entranced in the jinni also. For 2 characters that are not of this world, one made of fire (the jinni) and one made of clay (the golem), they possess many human characteristics. Chava, the golem, is a creature made of clay to resemble a human woman. She is made to be bound by a master, but her master dies soon after she is brought to life on a boat bound for New York. Ahmad, the jinni, is a being who is able to change forms, but is trapped as a male human by a wizard and locked in a flask. He is accidentally set free by a New York tinsmith, but doomed to remain in human form. Chava and Ahmad struggle to live amongst humans while keeping the secrets of their identities. Few know the truth of where they came from. Eventually they cross paths, each sensing an un-humanness the other possesses. Wecker introduces many other interesting characters that add layers to make this a complex story that is rich in imagery. As a reader, I felt the grittiness of the city and the strange qualities of the golem and the jinni to be so real. I read that the author spent 7 years researching this book and it shows in the details of the city and it's immigrants. The historical fiction aspect of this book did not disappoint.
I am not a huge fan of fantasy books. In fact, I usually avoid them unless they are getting outstanding reviews. To me, this book was worth all the hype. I found the protagonists to be strange and likable and I ultimately cared about what happened to them. I have read other reviews in which readers have said the book needed some editing because it was too long and maybe this is true, but I didn't find myself getting bored at all. I was captivated. This is the first time that I tried Whispersync and I found it to be a great tool, esp. for this longer book. Also, George Guidall did not disappoint, he was an excellent narrator and I look forward to listening to more of him in the future.
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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