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Book Review: The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni Helene Wecker

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.

The story

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
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.

 

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

  1. Your review of the book has me intrigued: the idea of the book being at once a fairy tale but also an reflection on immigration. I may just have to pick this one up even if on first glance it seemed out of my usual style. I love books – and people – that help me rethink my literary boundaries; thank you!

    • I am not too fond of modern fantasies either, but The Golem and the Djinni seemed pretty interesting and turned out to be one of best reads of the year. I believe you will like it too.

      Keep sharing your feedback 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, the hiccups you found do not sound that bad so will continue considering it over and over again as I am not sure yet if it would be a book for me. Still with hearing so many great things and even getting shared on your blog it must be something!

    • Yeah, the hiccups are rather minor; this book is one of the best I’ve read this year. The Golem and the Djinni works on multiple levels, so you might consider picking it up.

      Thank you for commenting.

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