Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)I'm not sure what brought this book onto my To Read list, but it was there, languishing, for a long time before I got around to reading it.  And honestly, I only got around to it when I did because it appeared on the front desk of the library while I was checking out some other books, and I added it to the pile.  The girl working the circulation desk was pretty excited; she'd chosen the book to put out, and had been eagerly awaiting someone to pick it up--and then I came along and took it.  A fairytale in the making, wouldn't you say?

I'm so glad I picked this up.  It's a beautiful historical fantasy, set in New York in the early twentieth century.  Streetcars and the Elevated are in place, but the streets are still ruled by horses and carriages and cars haven't yet been invented.  More precisely, the story takes place in two main neighborhoods: a Jewish neighborhood, which didn't have a real name (or if it did I can't remember) and Little Syria.  Into the Jewish neighborhood arrives a female golem, who will eventually be named Chava.  Created by an ex-rabbi in Poland to serve as a wife for a merchant, Chava found herself masterless shortly after being brought to life when the man meant to be her master/husband died of appendicitis during the journey to New York.  Chava is taken in by a well-meaning but sickly rabbi, who helps her pretend to be human, find a job, and adjust to the constant sounds of other people's thoughts in her head.  In Little Syria, a tinsmith receives a flask to repair, and unwittingly releases a jinni.  The jinni, bound to human form and unable to access most of his powers due to an iron cuff around his wrist, can produce heat but not do much else.  Like the rabbi for the golem, the tinsmith helps the jinni pretend to be human so as not to risk himself.  Meanwhile, Chava's creator follows her to New York in the search for the secret of eternal life.

Wecker is a brilliant storyteller.  In the back of the book, Neil Gaiman's American Gods is recommended for people who liked The Golem and the Jinni, and I can see why.  Wecker has a very matter-of-fact manner of storytelling, and her two main characters are a pair of fantastical creatures that normally aren't seen in fantasy separately, let alone together.  She also juggles a myriad of small strings and details, any of which could easily been lost, forgotten, or tangled, but instead come together into a beautiful masterpiece where every little thing has significance.  The characters, even the ones who aren't human, seem to live and breathe, and I could definitely empathize with their struggles.  That's really something, considering that I've never had to pretend to be human.  (Or have I?  Mwhahahahaha!)  But the Golem and the Jinni, as their stories meet and entwine and they face more and more struggles and emotional moments, and actually become more human, even though they don't. 

My only complaint about this one is that I wish the Golem and the Jinni had come together sooner; it takes a while for them to run into each other and for their stories to meet and link up, which means that the book has a somewhat slow beginning despite a lot happening to the two individually.  The main plot only really kicks into gear once they've met, and I would have loved to see more of their interactions and further development of their relationship.

This was a beautiful fantasy all around, and I can't wait to read the sequel...

...which doesn't come out until 2018?!  How am I supposed to wait that long?!

4 stars out of 5!

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