Best Science Fiction & Fantasy
Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, 2014
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.
Marvelous and compulsively listenable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
Okay, don’t say it.
This one is definitely not my usual genre. But there’s a reason for that.
I went hunting for audiobooks in which George Guidall narrates. He is one of my very favorite narrators and another reason I listen to so many Longmire audiobooks (written by Craig Johnson). This one caught my eye and oh my gosh! What an amazing journey!
Middle Eastern fiction woven beautifully with historical fantasy—so much to learn—so fascinating. A major atmospheric classic in fairy tale proportions. And the names, the language, the insight into Jewish culture, literature—all very smoothly rolled off Guidall’s tongue like a man reciting romantic poets, bathing the reader softly in the moment, caressing the ears.
This is a book to be read leisurely, digested, and enjoyed. The pace is languid through introduction of main characters and into backstories, explanations of the who and why. The backstories provide a greater understanding of present-day activities, the protagonist’s issues, proclivities, limitations, and each their separate and not necessarily complementary powers.
The author also examines the lengths at which each, both golem (Chava) and jinni (Ahmad) (supernatural beings) had to go to manifest normal human characteristics—the toll that extracted from each—and the extreme relief each must have felt when they were finally able to expose themselves to the other.
Take the time. It’s worth it. The characters, both main and support, are amazing. Easy to become invested, engaged. Arbeely, the Rabbi, Maryam Faddoul, empathetic. Michael Levy, poor guy—and Dr Saleh (Ice Cream Saleh), poor guy–sympathetic.
It’s an immersive fantasy brought to life with characters that create an enchanting tale of the ancient arts and magic.
The last 15-20% of the book brings the whole tale into one giant wizardy conclusion that has your head spinning with visions. All but one issue satisfying. BUT.
I hate what happens to Michael and is the only reason I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this as a 5+ star narrative. Surely there is an alternative! His only fault is his innocence. He loved the golem and I felt would have accepted her, knowing her powers, albeit some unfortunate. ARGH!
[Note: You may be interested to know that the author has produced a sophomore release called The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni. Declared “well worth the wait,” it was released June 8, 2021 and was also narrated by George Guidall.]
Genre: Historic Middle Eastern Fiction, Jewish Literature, Jewish Historical Fiction, Historical Fantasy
Listening Length: 19 hrs 42 mins
Narrator: George Guidall
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link(s): The Golem and the Jinni [Amazon]
Barnes & Noble
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five Stars
The Author: Helene Wecker’s first novel, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, was awarded the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature, the VCU Cabell Award for First Novel, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and was nominated for a Nebula Award and a World Fantasy Award. A sequel, THE HIDDEN PALACE: A TALE OF THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, will be published in June 2021. A Midwest native, she holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Joyland and Catamaran, as well as the fantasy anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and children.
©2022 V Williams