This review is a bit out of place since The Book Haven covers vintage books only. However, Helene Wecker’s debut novel is an extraordinary piece of fantasy/historical work that deserves a place in every book hub.
A rabbi (kind of spiritual teacher), who is an expert in Kabbalistic black magic, brings a golem (Chava) to life. When the golem’s master dies, she becomes a free creature.
A djinni called Ahmad was trapped inside a copper flask for centuries. He gets released accidentally in a Lower Manhattan shop.
The mythical beings meet by sheer chance and together they face a threat that challenges their existence. Set in late 19th century New York, this is a remarkable story that blends history with fantasy and offers the readers an amazing voyage.
What’s so good?
On a superficial level, The Golem and the Djinni seems to be an enjoyable magical tale with some truly inventive touches. However, it is also a piece of serious literary work that takes a closer look at immigrant experience and raises philosophical questions about “feeling lost” in a new, strange world.
Helene Wecker’s storytelling skills are impressive. The Golem and the Djinni succeeds in being an intellectual read without being boring. The story flows with a natural ease; the romantic moments come without being melodramatic. You can easily visualize the immigrant Arab and Jewish folks at the turn of the century through the golem and the djinni.
The author exhibits use of parallel storylines with surprising effectiveness. All in all, it doesn’t feel like a debut novel.
P.S. The idea of a golem pairing up with a jinni is at once ridiculous and fantastic. A creature trained to bow becomes friends with a fiery spirit infuriated by chains. Jewish folklore shakes hands with Arabian mythology — Mrs. Wecker should ask for a patent on the subject.
A few hiccups
The plot looks forcefully engineered in a few places. Also, Ahmad‘s (the djinni) character seems less convincing than the perfectly crafted golem. The Golem and the Djinni is perhaps too long (almost 500 pages) for an adult fairy tale, but the author manages to keep the readers interested with an engaging writing style. Mrs. Wecker succeeds in evoking an exotic feel that falls upon the readers like a spell.
About the author
Helene Wecker is an American writer with a Master’s degree in fiction. The Golem and the Djinni is her debut novel. It was published in April 2013 by HarperCollins. Mrs. Wecker was nominated for the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: Fantasy and Goodreads Debut Author. She lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter.
Is there a soul who doesn’t recognize Mr Bumble (Oliver Twist), Mr Pickwick (The Pickwick Papers) and Mr Micawber (David Copperfield) — the iconic characters created by Charles Dickens? It’s simply delightful to see them on stamps. A fitting tribute to a great British novelist.
Dickens was 28 when stamps were introduced in England. This revolutionized the concept of letter writing in the country. Dickens would have been glad to see his characters are now a part of Royal Mail.
Charles Dickens stamps were previously issued in Soviet Russia and Dubai.
Hey folks, here is another great example of concept art. This time Quentin Tarantino Movies have been presented as vintage paperbacks. The credit goes to artist Sharm Murugiah for creating cover art based on these movies. Consider a tie-up with this artist Mr. Tarantino.
Visit Sharm Murugiah’s website to buy the prints.
Silber Grusel Krimi was a German thriller/fantasy series that appeared between 1952 to 1977. The cover art of these books, though shocking and gruesome, are appealing in a pulpish way. What do you think?
Gérard de Villiers, one of the bestselling thriller writers of all time, passed away a couple of weeks back. The 83 year old French writer died of cancer.
His spy thrillers — Son Altesse Sérénissime aka SAS — serve as an example of one of the longest running series in the history of espionage fiction. De Villiers wrote 200 SAS novels, which sold more than 150 million copies and were translated into several languages. SAS novels always had provoking covers — usually a semi-nude female clutching a gun.
When Ian Fleming died in 1964, De Villiers tried to take his place with his brand of espionage thrillers. His protagonist Malko Linge is a Austrian aristocrat, who acts as a freelance agent for the CIA and embarks on perilous missions across the globe. Like Bond, he is vulnerable to femme fatales. SAS novels have a heavy dose of sex and gunplay, but are somewhat different from Bond books in terms of style.
De Villiers had a lot of sources in intelligence agencies, which gave him crucial information about real life espionage. His journalistic background gave him a thorough geopolitical knowledge too. So it’s not surprising that his books, though formulaic, were too close to reality and often mentioned events like assassination of the President of Egypt before the actual incident took place.
De Villiers was often accused by the critics of extreme right wing views, racism, and cheap entertainment. He was kind of sad about this; once he said “They cannot ignore me, but they have given me no recognition.” De Villiers’ success in English-language market was limited, and his books were never made into Hollywood blockbusters. But if globally considered, he was a publishing sensation and had success few writers in the genre could achieve.
Hopefully, we shall have new translations of his novels soon enough. Sleep well Mr. De Villiers.
Are you a dedicated collector of espionage novels? If yes, check out the following list to make sure you haven’t missed the classics of the genre.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (1963)
The Story of a British agent who is about to end his professional career, but is sent to one final assignment. While Ian Fleming pampers his hero with sultry seductresses, fast cars, and vodka martini, John Le Carre offers you believable characters and stories where spies act like spies.
From Russia with Love, Ian Fleming (1957)
Bond takes on Russia’s counter-intelligence agency SMERSH, who plots to kill the MI5 agent in the context of a carefully contrived scandal. The hugely successful 1963 film adaptation (starring Sean Connery) has turned this novel into a cult espionage book.
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (1907)
Mr Verloc, a secret agent, gets involved in an anarchist conspiracy, but things go horribly wrong. The Secret Agent stands for everything that James Bond is not. Conrad makes a fine synthesis of politics, spying and moral anarchy to write an atypical spy classic that has multiple layers of meaning.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan (1915)
On the eve of WWI, Richard Hannay — a bored London guy — gets entangled in an intricate web of codes and homicide. Buchan piles improbability upon improbability and brings about nothing profound. Read simply because it’s a brilliant story, brilliantly told. Check out the classic Hitchcock film too.
Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
More a hardboiled piece than a spy novel, Red Harvest tells the story of the Continental Op, who takes on an entire town to avenge the murder of an honest citizen. A gushing, violent masterpiece of crime fiction and the best Dashiell Hammett novel without question.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974)
George Smiley is assigned to identify and destroy a double agent in British Intelligence. A really tricky novel where office politics and international espionage are hardly distinguishable. It’s unlike anything you get to read in spy fiction. Watch the film version starring Gary Oldman.
Bourne identity by Robert Ludlum (1980)
Jason Bourne wakes up to find that his memory is gone. Why someone wants him dead? What are his secrets? Who is he? A great dose of adventure, action, and conspiracy with some surprising twists. The film adaptation, though pretty good, differs from the book.
The Man Who was Thursday By G.K. Chesterton (1908)
This classic spy story is about a detective who infiltrates a group of anarchists. The Man Who was Thursday is part mystery, part philosophy, and part fantasy. This is an allegorical tale, which needs multiple reading. Recommended for readers with a taste for thought-provoking books.
The Impossible Virgin, Peter O’Donnell (1971)
Modesty and her lieutenant, Willie Garvin take on Brunel — the savage killer — in Central Africa and fight for the secret of the Impossible Virgin, a key to enormous wealth. Incorrect political attitudes, quirky characters, and lots of hand-to-hand combat make this action-adventure novel too much fun.
Guns of Navarone, Alistair MacLean (1963)
Five men sent to silence the Guns of Navarone. Can they do what an entire navy could not? A tense WWII thriller that was made into an equally good movie starring Gregory Peck. Detailed military strategies and plot twists will keep you guessing till the end.
What’s your favourite spy thriller?