The Golem and the Jinni provides the rare treat of historical fiction infused with fantastic elements whilst mixing multiple cultures. The characters are compelling, multiple related story lines are deftly woven together and the story itself provides a beautiful tableau on which to paint these characters. The turn-of-the-(previous)-century, immigrant New York that Helene Wecker paints is a full character in itself.
Ms. Wecker doesn’t simply invite us to know her characters, she has fully immerses us in their world, their lives, and in their thoughts. As we read the book, the rhythm of our own thoughts and the vocabulary of our own reflections begin to take on a hint of flavor from those of the characters. These characters are so rich in their responses and their thought life as well as the way they see the challenges ahead of them that, while there is a lovely driving narrative throughout the whole story, you can simply enjoy diving into the well of these lives.
Helene Wecker – Photo Credit Sheldon Wecker
Let’s take a little deeper look at the culture picture given of early Easter European Jewish and Syrian Christian immigrants to America. There is much in their cultures that overlap – the near-eastern tradition of honoring and taking care of strangers in need as well as some of their cuisine. In New York, each had a tight community to deal with the transition to this new world in which they found themselves. Standing on the streets of each neighborhood would have brought similar impressions – busy, smells of coffee and spices, street vendors and calls of friendship. There were, of course, differences and sometimes hostility. Ms. Wecker allows you to vicariously experience this world while weaving in fantastical elements with the story between the Golem and the Jinni. The warp and woof of the cultures brings out the features of the various characters, how they perceive others and respond. It’s not like their cultural automaton but culture flavors all that they do; Ms. Wecker brings this all about in an organic and realist manner. It provides a framework for the character’s relations and the direction of the narrative.
Jinn, Bedouin, caring Rabbi, crafty and cruel magician trained as a rabbi, coffee shop owners, a scion of the Winston family who wanted to be more than a jewel on some man’s arm and so much more. Indeed, both Chava, the poor Golem and Sophia, the Heiress, live under the burden of limiting expectation. Both are expected to be obedient wives who exist solely to please their husbands. Clearly, they walk in different worlds (that eventually collide), but their primary issues are similar There are multiple story threads that smoothly come together. Each person, each thread, every story told and each bit of action are all masterfully used to build the narrative and drive the story toward the conclusion. There are no wasted bits and yet it doesn’t fill artificially contrived.
In this debut novel, Ms. Wecker already exhibit a mastery of her craft. The dialog, story, characters and worlds (whether New York, the desert, Poland or an oasis) are perfectly married, her phrasing carefully reflects each setting and person and she understands and conveys the challenges and longings that come to us all.
I heard the book, performed by audiobook veteran George Guidall, as much of the story as I read. His pacing, inflection and characterization are spot-on. In particular, his pacing allows you to fully soak up the world, the characters and storyline. If you enjoy audiobooks at all, you love this one. If you want to luxuriate in the wording, you can always user Whispersync for Voice to jump between the Audible version and the Kindle.
- HarperBooks Trailer
I highly recommend this story of love and loss, moving beyond people’s expectations laid down for you and rising about your cultural limitations even as you embrace it.