What an enchanting story!
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker isn’t your typical urban fantasy or magical historical fiction, and the writing style is more fairy tale like with a storyteller’s narrative rather than what you get from most modern fiction. The strongest aspect going for this book is it’s premise: Two magical creatures are thrust into 1899 New York, a place unfamiliar to either of them for various reasons. They must keep their magical identities hidden or they could be destroyed. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, who’s master awakens her just before he dies leaving her ignorant and adrift aboard a boat headed for Ellis Island, New York. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert; but he has been trapped in an old copper flask for a thousand years and is accidentally released by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. The two stories unfold for the reader to answer such questions as how do the two magical creatures deal with being new immigrants in 1899 New York, how do they come together, and what issues arise as a result of their unlikely friendship?
The novel is filled with vivid imagery and vivacious, passionate characters who have distinct strengths, weaknesses, and desires that coincide and clash in a very believable and human fashion. I found the story engaging, enthralling, and unique. The cast of characters were varied and the stories soaked in Jewish and Arab mythology and mysticism.
As I said in the beginning the writing style is more like reading a fairy tale with a lot of telling the reader information, which could put off some more literary readers or the modern writer who’s expecting a more active, contemporary writing style. Not to say that there isn’t action in this book, in fact there’s quite a bit of it, but it’s told as if by a storyteller instead of the close third person or first person perspective seen in most novels today.
The two main stories lines (that of the golem and the jinni) are intertwined with several sub stories, that highlight the most important of the secondary characters, and all come together to weave a complicated tapestry of beauty.
My only gripe with the writing style is the abrupt scene changes that occur through out the story. Within each chapter the story will shift suddenly from one story-line to another. Sure there’s an extra paragraph break, but I listened to, instead of read, this book and that was quite off putting even though there was always a distinct pause for each break. It’s not that the shifts weren’t easy to follow, it was just a bit jarring.
Toward the end of the book I was left wondering how everyone who’s story was highlighted would come together and resolve for there wouldn’t be so much time spent on certain story lines if there wasn’t a purpose to it. I was thoroughly satisfied by the ending and wonder if the author will write another story involving Chava and Ahmad or will this just be a beautiful stand alone novel. I certainly hope she decides to continue.
If you enjoy magical realism, urban fantasy, or historical fiction and are interested in trying out a new and fresh perspective on golems and jin, I highly suggest The Golem and the Jinni.