Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel

Imaginative and meticulously researched, this enchanting debut novel from Helene Wecker is, in reality, an historical fiction. Set primarily in turn-of-the-century Manhattan, it deliberately details the immigrant experience–the wonders and hardships of being in a new country and the discoveries, triumphs, and failures that follow–while bringing the city itself to life with such passion that New York of yore seems like a magical land. Beyond reality, however, The Golem and the Jinni, as the title implies, is also a fantastic work of fantasy. The Golem is an insatiably curious clay “woman” that was created to seem human while serving only her husband; the Jinni is a magical “man” whose fascination with mortals has left him nearly stripped of his own nature and forced to live as one. These mythical characters from otherwise clashing cultures not only coexist, but come to rely upon one another in order to exist at all. In turn, their story finds us not only rooting for them to find peace and happiness, but gaining a better understanding of our own human nature in the process. –Robin A. Rothman

Review
“From its eerie opening pages to its shattering conclusion, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is an astonishing debut novel that sweeps us into a gaslit alternate reality rich enough to get lost in.” (Tom Reiss, author of THE ORIENTALIST and THE BLACK COUNT )

“With a delightful blend of the prosaic and the fanciful, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI explores what it means to be human as Chava and Ahmad struggle to live and find love while overcoming the powerful adversary who threatens to destroy them.” (Deborah Harkness, author of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES )

“Original and fresh…A fascinating blend of historical fiction and Jewish and Arab folklore” (Library Journal )

“Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter…[A] spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction.” (Publishers Weekly )

“The premise is so fresh…A mystical and highly original stroll through the sidewalks of New York.” (Booklist )

“Wecker begins with a juicy premise…and great adventures ensue…She writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land.” (Kirkus Reviews )

“Magical thinking comes alive in an enchanting allegory of the immigrant experience as two mythical beings try to make sense of themselves and the world around them.” (Family Circle Magazine )

“THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.” (New York Journal of Books )

“It sounds like the setup for a really strange joke: “A golem and a jinni walk into a bakery in early 19th-century New York….” But this debut novel – part fantastic tale, part historical fiction – is one of the most highly anticipated fiction releases of the spring.” (Christian Science Monitor )
From the Back Cover

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 readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
About the Author

Helene Wecker received a B.A. from Carleton College in Minnesota and an M.F.A. from Columbia University in New York. A Chicago-area native who’s made her home in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, she now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.

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