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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Golem and the Jinni (1)

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3,1092311,817 (4.13)332
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» See also 332 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
I suppose I should be more generous with a first novel, but I can't seem to find it in me today. There was just something that felt a little bit too forced (or contrived?) about the storyline and the characters, and I found the experience tiring. Maybe I shouldn't read so much while sick. ( )
  natcontrary | May 21, 2018 |
First book of 2016 to enter my “Favorites” shelf!

This book had a great impact on me, especially the parts of the story with the Jewish background. My father is a second-generation Jewish immigrant; his parents came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, like many characters in this book. While I’m not Jewish myself, I’m very familiar with the attitudes and the mannerisms they brought with them, and could probably quote a few Yiddish sayings myself, if pressed.

I don’t usually start a review of an audiobook by talking about the narrator, but narrator George Guidall was simply amazing. He captured the feel of the book perfectly, and his accents for both the Jewish immigrants and the Syrian immigrants and Bedouins were spot-on. There was never any doubt who the villains were, simply based on the voices he chose. I’ll definitely be looking for more narration by Mr. Guidall.

The author clearly conducted much research regarding setting, culture, and behaviors of different groups of people, and it shows dramatically throughout the book. Naturally, early 1900s New York is a richly-imagined location; it is the main setting of the book, after all. Woven throughout the book is a glimpse of Jewish life in Poland and New York, and of the Syrian Desert in the late 1800s and a thousand years earlier with the Bedouins. These cultural details might seem cumbersome, but were well-integrated throughout the book, and become vital to the storyline itself.

The female Golem, created to be a wife of a socially-inept Jewish man and brought to life on a ship crossing the Atlantic, has no experience of anything prior to the voyage. She is sensitive to the feelings of others and has to learn how to control herself in the presence of others who are harboring strong emotions. She also requires explanations of things that a “normal” person wouldn't require, having to learn even the most basic things and tasks.

The male Jinni, inadvertently released from a copper flask by a Syrian metal worker, has little experience with humankind. He is all about living for the moment, like the fleeting “dust devil” that he is. He also requires explanations of “modern” society, struggling to find a place in which he fits it.

Of the two title characters, the Golem was the most sympathetic; she had the most to lose: she could be destroyed with the turn of a specific phrase. The Jinni was a lot more careless and carefree, which have been more of a reflection of culture. It was also in the characters' natures -- a Golem is creature made to serve a master, whereas a Jinni would naturally be free and might move from place to place as he so desired.

The book alternates between chapters about the Golem and chapters about the Jinni, with an occasional chapter or scene about another character (Yehudah Schaalman, a disgraced Jewish rabbi; Fadwa, a Bedouin girl; Mahmoud Saleh, a Syrian doctor; Sophia Winston, a New York heiress). The Golem (named Chava) and the Jinni (named Ahmad), interact with these and others in and around their communities, including the people who took them in (for the Golem, an aging rabbi, and for the Jinni, a Syrian tinsmith). The scenes from these other points of view were interspersed perfectly throughout the book, both chronologically and narratively, giving vital clues at the right times. The book was obviously well-thought out in advance.

The magic in this book is both cultural and religious. Golems come from Jewish lore, while Jinnis are Arab in origin. Other dark magic is hinted at throughout the book. Before starting the book, I thought it was going to be a “Jewish Golem” and a “Muslim Jinni”, and all that interaction would entail, but interestingly, while the Golem and her protectors/mentors were obviously Jewish, the Arabs were actually Syrian Christians, Orthodox in their beliefs. It wasn’t a primary focus in the storyline, but it popped up a few times, especially nearing the end of the book in a tangential plot line.

There is not a lot of action in this book. It is a deep book with many layers to peel back and examine. In that respect, this book would be great for book clubs and literature classes to read and analyze. There is simply so much mixed into this book, that it would take many readings to capture it all. The author sets many, many plot points in motion at the start, and many of these plot lines are obscure at first. But like a master weaver, she slowly starts bringing threads together to form a tapestry of immense proportion, culminating with a final confrontation as epic as the beginning was subtle.

Overall, this did not feel like a debut novel. The author has presented an extremely strong book that many more experienced authors would struggle with. Ms. Wecker is methodical in her presentation, taking time to illustrate specific cultural points, and how they played a part in Chava’s and Ahmad’s lives. This attention to detail makes for a very vivid read, both beautiful and tragic in its telling. I’m sorry that I waited to read/listen to it. ( )
  ssimon2000 | May 7, 2018 |
It's really not fair to compare this book to The Night Circus, as we are only ever as we are made, no more, no less. ( )
  cindiann | May 3, 2018 |
It should be said this is a longish read and at times pretty slow paced which may well put some readers off. I enjoyed this and found the details really created both turn of the century New York for me. I also felt that Wecker showed rather than told throughout which I really appreciate, even if sometimes if does result in more words.

I have spent a long time trying to pinpoint what I liked about this novel and am unable to describe just one or two elements. This novel clearly has an element of fantasy about it, our two main characters are magical creatures and mysticism, possessions and wizards abound but I did not find this to be the defining characteristic. Rather by the end it felt more like a wonderful adults fairy tale than a typical fantasy novel.

There is plot and mystery a plenty here – there is the search to help / control Chava as well as Ahmad’s ongoing quest for both peace but also understanding about how he came to find himself captured and what had happened to him in the intervening years.

What I keep returning to however is the strong characters and their development and growth throughout the story. All the characters from the Rabbi to young Matthew are relatable and well fleshed out with many having their own stories told. I particularly enjoyed the Rabbi, kindly but torn with indecision, and Sophie who I felt represented a different set of challenges for women of the time. New York itself feels like a character in the novel – young, questing and busy with a drive to create community and a sense of permanence.

I found Chava to be one of the most honest and human characters I have read about in a good while. Her struggles to trust, build relationships and survive as a woman in a large city are powerful and relevant today and I think with her childlike wonder at the worries of adulthood and humanity she’ll be a favourite – she is certainly eminently quotable! Ahmad is more challenging to like, he is at times supercilious and arrogant, but I still also found a great deal of empathy for his plight.
Both characters develop beautifully throughout the novel – where the construct could lead to lots of meandering conversations about the nature of life and humanity rather we see both change and growth.
In conclusion I loved it and look forward to the seque ( )
  itchyfeetreader | May 3, 2018 |
This took me a lot longer to read than I would've liked, partly due to the smallish text (maybe I should've read it on my Kindle), but toward the end, partly because I didn't want to say goodbye to these characters. I read a sequel is coming in the fall, but this book has a perfect ending and while I welcome the chance to read more about Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni, I would have been happy enough with just this.

Chava is a Hebrew creature made of clay to be the wife of a man who dies en route from Prussia to New York City in 1899. An elderly rabbi realizes her true nature and takes her under his wing, trying to teach her how to fit in. Ahmad (his real name is unpronounceable) is a jinni released from a flask by a Syrian metalsmith after years of captivity. Still trapped by the iron cuff on his wrist, put there by the wizard who had imprisoned him, the newly-named Ahmad is stuck in human form.

Wecker makes full use of their opposing natures as the two non-human creatures happen upon each other one night and form an odd friendship. Chava has been left masterless yet privy to the thoughts of all humans she comes in contact with. Needing neither sleep nor food or drink, possessing no beating heart, she is under constant stress of being found out. A being of superior strength, she poses a danger to society and she can be destroyed by the reading of a particular spell. Freed from a master's control though by nature she was made for such control, Chava struggles to find her place in the city she finds herself in.

On the other hand, Ahmad is a creature born to soar and the constraints of human form and the need to also fit into society, are as chafing to his nature as the cuff on his wrist.

Dangers come from all directions, including the arrival of the elderly mystic who created Chava who is seeking eternal life, the bewitched man who senses Ahmad's true nature, and instances where both Chava and Ahmad inadvertently reveal their special abilities. Wecker does a wonderful job weaving together the disparate characters and events, including flashbacks, to give us a fully realized, fantastical New York City at the end of the 1800s. Along the way, she gives us a treatise on what it means to be human, as well as an unexpected love story. ( )
  ShellyS | Mar 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
The title characters of “The Golem and the Jinni” are not the book’s only magic. The story is so inventive, so elegantly written and so well constructed that it’s hard to believe this is a first novel. Clearly, otherworldly forces were involved.
added by karenb | editStar-Tribune, Curt Schleier (Jun 15, 2013)
You think a relationship is complicated when a woman is from Venus and a man is from Mars? Trust me, that’s a piece of cake compared with the hurdles that a modest golem and a mercurial jinni face when they fall in love.
The sometimes slow pace picks up considerably as the disparate characters decipher the past and try to save the souls variously threatened by the golem and the jinni, as well as by the Jewish conjurer and (surprise) a Syrian wizard. The interplay of loyalties and the struggle to assert reason over emotion keep the pages flipping.
added by karenb | editNew York Times, Susan Cokal (May 16, 2013)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wecker, HeleneAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beals, Jesse TarboxCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ljoenes, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ruoto, WilliamDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Kareem
First words
The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.
"A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts."
You must learn how to act according to what people say and do, not what they wish or fear.
These were the world's first people. Everything they did, every action and decision, was entirely new, without precedent. They had no larger society to turn to, no examples of how to behave. They only had the Almighty to tell them right from wrong. And like children, if His commands ran counter to their desires, sometimes they chose not to listen. And then they learned that there are consequences to one's actions.
As the daughter of one of the richest and most prominent families in New York--indeed, in the country--it had been made clear to her, in ways both subtle and overt, that she was expected to little more than simply exist, biding her time and minding her manners until she made a suitable match and continued the family line. Her future unrolled before her like a dreadful tapestry, its pattern set and immutable. There would be a wedding, and then a house somewhere nearby on the avenue, with a nursery for the children that were, of course, mandatory.
"Once a golem develops a taste for destruction," the old rabbi said, "little can stop it save the words that destroy it. Not all golems are as crude or stupid as this one, but all share the same essential nature. They are tools of man, and they are dangerous. Once they have disposed of their enemies they will turn on their masters. They are creatures of last resort. Remember that."
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Book description
Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, 2013

Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in this strange new place, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their neighbors while masking their true natures. Surrounding them is a community of immigrants: the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.

Meeting by chance, the two creatures become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Haiku summary
Magical beings
Seeking truth, learning goodness
Mud and fire endure

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Chava, a golem brought to life by a disgraced rabbi, and Ahmad, a jinni made of fire, form an unlikely friendship on the streets of New York until a fateful choice changes everything.

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