Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

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Rating: ***** / 5 out of 5
Genres: Adult, Magical Realism, Paranormal
Published April 23, 2013 by Harper
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Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master-the husband who commissioned her-dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

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. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free-an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world.

Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava-imbued with extraordinary physical strength-fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad-an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure-chafes at monotony and human dullness. Like their immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them.

Meeting by chance, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing nature-until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

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How could I possibly review this in the most coherent way?

This book, a debut at that, is one of the best I’ve read this year. No, scratch that, it’s THE best I’ve read in a long time, easily knocking over the ones I’ve gushed in the past few weeks to nothing. After turning the last page, I just knew it would be among my all-time favorites, together with A Monster Calls, Written in Red, and Blood Song. I’ve never felt this hypnotized, amazed, and captivated; the level of mesmerization is just so up there that after reading this book, I doubt I can find any more that would be able to set the bar even higher. Be careful, books! Thanks to The Golem and the Jinni, you’ll be finding yourselves continuously compared to this stunning, hard-to-beat literary masterpiece.

A book that encompasses vast lands and centuries of loneliness and solitude, it is told in the perspectives of a dynamic cast of characters, with their own stories to tell, fears to hide, and desires to pursue, but it is told mainly in the eyes of Chava, a golem that was made to follow a master but unfortunately found herself having no one to guide her, and Ahmad, a jinni, who in a malicious twist of fate and unwanted circumstances, was trapped by a wizard hundreds of years past and now tied to a world he does not know. Two individuals with contrasting natures stuck in an environment they do not fully understand, I found them to be the book’s strongest points, as their innocence and rashness were very endearing to read; every time they would wonder about human society — why do we have religion? Why do we hold out our desires and say what we deem is socially appropriate? Why is there a need for marriage and all sorts of rituals? — I end up pausing for a few minutes wondering about it, too, and the fact that it’s being pondered on by an outside perspective, a magical being not of our nature, made it all the more thought-provoking. What’s the meaning of life? What does it mean to really live? Are we really living or merely existing? Are we content with the monotony and constant routine of our daily lives, when we are capable of doing so much more? I loved how the book asked all these questions about human life and ethics from the point of view of a magical being, a creature not human, but more human than many of us.

Couple that with the beautiful narrative, it just makes the experience all the more bewitching and engaging. Wecker has this unique and spectacular way of making things so familiar to us — the buzzing of the city, the chattering of neighbors, the baking of bread, and everything else — become so big, and new, and exciting. The book does take on a slow pace. A lot of things and activities that we usually find mundane and boring were described constantly, but Wecker, being the awesome writer that she is, gave the book an atmosphere that was magical and surreal at the same time that these activities just became a part of the book’s charm. The writing is just so beautiful, the prose sublime, the descriptions enchanting, that you just fall in love with all of its aspects. I’m sure some of you are probably thinking I’m giving it way too much credit, but I shit you not when I say that the author’s writing prowess is the best I’ve ever encountered.

The plot is very slow. It unfolds itself in a snail-like pace, making you know the characters first, their place in the grander scheme of things, and their role in the overall story, revealing itself little by little in the background. It has a really interesting storyline that spans centuries of years to the present, a tale of maliciousness, consequences, revenge, and love. Because I believed the characters were the strongest points of the book, I thought the storyline, while good, was only secondary, but it was still very enjoyable and suspenseful nonetheless (especially when you have a creepy old man stalking you on his quest to find the key to immortality!). It has a very satisfying ending, with a romance that steadily gained momentum in the end, giving me a giddy, sheepish smile and a warm feeling tingling in my spine as I turned the last page, knowing deep in my heart that the two magical beings will find closure and happiness in the physical world.

All in all, these are what I have to say: engaging story, check; nicely thought-out three-dimensional well-rounded characters, check; beautiful writing, check; surreal, magical atmosphere giving the book an overall romantic air, check; wonderful world-building, check! This is a stunning debut, a book that deserves a place in all our shelves, because it’s that good. You cannot miss this one out, folks!

Final verdict: 5 STARS!!!

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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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    • FayeFaye says

      Yes :D I didn’t mind it so much because even though it was slow, there were a lot to think about, a lot to discern, a lot of activity between the lines. Very beautiful book :D

  1. Suz Reads says

    Great review! This book caught my eye and I was wondering how it was so am glad to read how much you liked it! I’m not a big fan of slow plots but I love a book that makes me think – especially about life and what we should be getting from it. It sounds like the author really makes the characters and scenes come to life with her words too! I can’t wait to read this book! Thanks for your comments :)

    • FayeFaye says

      Thank you, Suz, and you’re welcome! She definitely gives new life to activities we are all already too familiar with. I really, really hope you enjoy it!

    • FayeFaye says

      Thank you! I’m definitely buying a physical copy myself, if not for the content but for that gorgeous gorgeous cover! :p