Friday, January 23, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Posted by Yuma County Library

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Adjusting to a new life in 19th-century New York is difficult enough for immigrants in the Jewish and Syrian communities, who nonetheless form close-knit neighborhoods and support each other. It's even more difficult for Chava and Ahmad, who aren't even human. Their cultures and outlooks on life are different, but a chance meeting helps them form an unlikely, and sometimes uneasy, friendship.

What I Thought: This was an absolutely lovely book. The writing was poignant and evocative without being overwrought, creating a sense of quiet melancholy that suited the two protagonists well. Side characters were drawn with color and sympathy, and a more suspenseful plot kicks in towards the middle that made the book addicting - but the real attractions in this novel are the setting and the protagonists themselves. Both the Jewish and Syrian-American communities are depicted in a way that made me feel I was really living among these people, and historical details flowed so naturally in the descriptions that the narrator never had to relate to exposition to provide context for the story. Chava and Ahmad both felt suitably inhuman - they are, after all, magical creatures - but this didn't keep them from being sympathetic. They're also excellent foils for each other (Chava, a golem made of earth, is brand-new to the world and humble - while Ahmad, a jinni made of fire, is millennia old and proud of his erstwhile power). I'd recommend this book even to people who don't usually enjoy fantasy; it's not a full fantasy so much as "magical realism", a historical novel that happens to highlight the experience of feeling like the world's slipping away by making its protagonists the ultimate outsiders.

Readalikes: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, for more melancholy-laced historical fiction that immerses you in the setting; The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, for more bestselling fiction fraught with quiet tension

Or look this book up on NoveList!