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.