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 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.
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, some contemporary 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 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.
My husband and I attempted to listen to this on a long drive. By the 5th chapter, we decided that silence would be better - it was just agonizing. The narrator was painfully dull, and the story unfolded, perhaps, too slowly; we couldn't imagine listening to the whole excruciating thing.On the other hand, when we returned home, and I tried again with the book, this time on my afternoon walks, things turned around. The story finally (!) picked up, and the listening under different circumstances helped, though the narrator remained, for quite a while, a taste I'd not yet acquired.. In the final analysis, I liked the book and became reconciled to the narrator's style. It was worth the listen, though I don't know that I'd go back either to the author or to the narrator.
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.
He vanished into the story which--in narration in my opinion--is the highest possible compliment.
This book is 5 stars in all regards and I haven't quite finished (another 4 hours to go). One thing I find in novels that I love is that they contain characters that I care about intensely and that the story begins to feel like a movie in my mind. There are, obviously, many great and wonderful novels that have other characteristics, but this novel has these two attributes in spades. I marvel that this is Helene Wecker's first novel. She is a terrific writer, never writes in cliches and has such command of her plot that whenever I begin to anticipate the next turn she foils me with something truer and more original. Her two principal characters also surprise me at times. Both have strong and consistent characters but can still say or do something unexpected. For a long novel, I think the pacing is excellent and my interest has never flagged. I will be sorry to have it end and not to have another Helene Wecker novel to turn to.
(The rooftop world the author conjures is so brilliant. I can't imagine that this book will not be turned into a movie.)
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.
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