The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

Posted March 27, 2014 by Kara in book review, Lyn / 10 Comments

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen WeckerThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Published by HarperCollins on April 23rd, 2013
Genres: adult, historical
Pages: 512
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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four-stars

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.

Ever since I spied this book in the bookstore, I was instantly drawn to a book that delved into both Jewish and Arab mythology and culture. It was a strange yet appealing combination. Sadly, I did not buy the book as soon as I bought it, but thanks to the yearly book gifting giveaway at Reddit, I was able to finally own this one on my Kindle.

This book was well worth the huge commitment. According to Amazon, the Kindle book came in at a whopping 809 pages.  It was intimidating, but I couldn’t stay away from this book for long.
The cultural and historical themes of the book makes this tome well worth reading. Overall, I was pleased with the novel, as a whole.

What Worked


I have to give Wecker some major credit from the start.  Her two main and title characters, the jinni and the golem,  each had a distinct voice.  I have become so use to characters sharing the same voice that I just tend to overlook it. When I do see characters written as completely different individuals, not as a matching set, I have to stop and marvel at the skill and care of the author.

The rich cultural immersion.  If you are unfamiliar with golems in Jewish mythology, or the true origin of the Arab genie (jinni), then this is a wonderful introduction to the lore from each culture.  I was more familiar with the Jewish history and somewhat acquainted with the Arab tales.  The book touches on the background of the mythical creatures.

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This doesn’t count.


The authentic research of the history surrounding the immigration period of New York.  Written at the turn of the 20th century, the Wecker dedicates portions of her author website to the background of the locations in the book.  It is not only entertaining, but also provides a slice of American history.  I enjoyed the genuine glimpse into the cultural salad of the area as well as the story line.

The two characters, the Jinni and the Golem, stand on two sides of human nature.  The female golem is a representation of order, control and responsibility, while the jinni tends to stand for impulse and larger-than-life living.

The range of secondary characters.  I enjoyed a large majority of the background characters as well.

The ending to the book.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but I was touched with the sentiment of the conclusion.

Expect a huge range of emotions in this one – no feeling is left untouched.

What Didn’t Work


The first parts of the novel seemed to drag along.  At times, I felt like rushing through parts of the first few chapters.

One of the characters I ended up loving, Michael, was continually robbed in the entire book, for convenience. I was sore after witnessing Michael’s treatment.  He seemed to constantly get the short end of the stick just for simply existing.

In certain parts, the novel almost grew stagnant and seemed to come to a standstill.

Overall:

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This was very enjoyable, and anyone looking for realistic fantasy should invest in this one.  The author reaches out to her audience with characters who could relate to a wide range of personality types. This novel is ideal for history buffs and readers looking for something new in the paranormal department.

10 responses to “The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

  1. Okay, this sounds LOVELY. I love a read that delves into history and culture and I know nothing about any of this really. Honestly, I am determined to check this one out! Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this one for so fucking long but the sheer size of the book sends me into hibernation. I have short attention span so I tend to grow out of books if they take too long; a shame as you said that the first chapters drag. WHYEEEEE?! I’m sure I’ll read it someday though, especially since I found out just now that the Golem and the Jinni are two different characters- no human narrators!!!!! It’s captivating what you mentioned about them representing order and chaos, sorta like Yin/Yang? Anywho, two of my favorite characters from childhood in one review. Whoppppppppppeeeeee!!!

  3. I recently came across this novel on the io9 site . It looks so interesting and I know little of Arab or Jewish mythology ( it is still untapped source for fantasy novels, I think ) great review lynn

    • Thanks! For those readers who are tired of the same old paranormal twist (vampire, zombie, werewolf, etc etc) this is a sure-fire cure for that problem.

  4. I have been wanting to read this damn book for EVER it seems. This sounds so good (but glad to know in advance of the slow bits so I can be prepared) 🙂 Great review, Lyn!

    • Thank you, Bonnie! I hope you enjoy it! I was complaining a while back that I wanted something new in paranormal, and this book was the answer to that wish.

  5. I started this and then put it on hold because of the slow bits. I think I am going to have to power through them because the rest of this sounds really,really good. Also, I love history and different types of characters and realistic fantasy.

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