by Helene Wecker
Genres: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
A marvelous and absorbing debut novel, an enchanting combination of vivid historical fiction and magical fable about two supernatural creatures in turn-of-the-century immigrant New York. An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master-the husband who commissioned her-dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. 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. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free-an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world. Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava-imbued with extraordinary physical strength-fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad-an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure-chafes at monotony and human dullness. Like their immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them. Surrounding them is a colorful cast of supporting characters who inhabit the immigrant communities in lower Manhattan at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century: the café owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary Ice Cream 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 immigrants; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the mysterious Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom. Meeting by chance, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing nature-until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice. Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
Last year I read a few articles about the most anticipated books for 2013 and debut authors to keep an eye on. The cover and title of The Golem and the Jinni immediately caught my eye. Once I read the synopsis and references to fans of Harkness’s Discovery of Witches and Morgenstern’s Night Circus I knew this book and I were destined to meet.
I have always been fascinated by the mythology of Golems and the powers of a Jinni and found this historical fiction to be; magical, breathtaking, romantic and memorable. I can hardly believe this powerful, enchanting and flawless novel is Helene Walker’s debut novel. She writes with the passionate skills of a seasoned writer, assuming complete control as she slowly immerses the reading into the tale leaving them breathless.
This tale takes us on a magical journey weaving the tale of two supernatural creatures as they arrive and take up residence in an immigrant community in 1899, New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made entirely of clay commissioned and brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who practices the dark art of Kabbalistic magic. The man who commissions her plans to make her his wife. He places her in a crate in the cargo of a ship and together they set sail. Despite the rabbi’s caution, he awakens her aboard the ship, but he develops an illness on the voyage and succumbs to it. She finds herself without a master and walking the streets of New York. Ahmad a Jinni who hails from the Syrian desert was born of fire and has been trapped for centuries by a Bedouin wizard. A tinsmith in lower Manhattan accidentally releases him from a copper flask as he makes repairs to it. Bound in unbreakable Iron cuffs, he finds himself free but locked in human form. The tale that unfolds is captivating as we watch their lives unfold, and by accident intertwine. Walker spun a tale that completely enthralled me as she weaved in suspense, enlightenment, and the unlikeliest of friendships.
The characters in this tale are so remarkable and fleshed out I am almost giddy. I have long been fascinated by these mystical creatures and Walker’s interpretation of them was stunning. Chava’s abilities and the characteristics the rabbi gifted her with are remarkable. Without a master, she is slowly able to make decisions and reach conclusions on her own. I was fascinated by how clever she was and her thought process. Ahmad the Jinni is a curious creature who is often amused at mere humans but also finds himself fascinated by their beliefs and slowly we see him transform as he finds purpose. The author does a wonderful job of sharing his inner fears and longings. We learn about the community where they dwell and the author gives voice and depth to these secondary characters as she threads their stories into the tale and introduces them to the Golem and the Jinni. Each character from the ice cream maker to the newly arrived immigrant who makes himself an intricate part of the Sheltering House help shape and mold the events as they unfold.
Within the first few pages, I knew that I had stepped into a world that I would not soon forget. Walker’s beautiful world building and thought-provoking tale quickly endeared itself to me. It is quickly evident that she is well versed in the time period, myths, and beliefs used to spin this magical story. The tale flowed effortlessly from past to present and from character to character as she slowly weaved the threads of each event and character together. As the tale unfolded, we began to piece together how the characters connected creating tension as we waited for the characters to understand. While I was anxious for the outcome, I found myself savoring the details of the city, the characters and the traditions of this small community. I became equally caught up in the secondary characters lives and troubles. The friendship that developed between the Golem and the Jinni was slow to build, believable and magical. A bond formed between them, while not quite a romance it evoked a romantic feeling in me and I found myself rooting for this unlikely duo. Walker touches on faith, love, good vs. evil and her attention to detail was riveting. At almost five hundred pages, it felt neither rushed nor long-winded. I love when a book holds me captive and I haven’t a care about what page I am on or what I am supposed to be cooking for dinner because it means that I have once again found that high I chase when reading a good book. That feeling I get when the world slips away and I find myself transported into the world the author has created. Not only am I confident this will be one of my most memorable reads for 2013 I have a feeling this will be one that I recommend, re-visit and talk about for years to come.
Absolutely stunning and captivating I cannot recommend the Golem and the Jinni enough. Fans of Discovery of Witches will be enchanted by this tale. Unique and original with characters that will leave their mark on your soul. I cannot wait to see what Walker has in store for us next!
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