Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

This is a tough book to review.  I've read other reviews of the book to look for a way in and most folks say the same thing; best book they've read this year, a fantasy story of a sort because it contains two mythical creatures, a serious piece of literature that deals with life issues well without focusing on those issues rather than the story, a great historical novel, a love story.

Those ideas give you a hint at this book but they still don't quite capture it.  A Golem is a creature from Hebrew mythology that is made of clay and brought to life through an incantation to serve as a slave to one master.  A Jinni (there are many types) is a creature of fire from Arabic mythology that does not willingly become a slave but can be captured by a wizard and made to perform tasks and grant wishes.  In this story, both are brought to the tenements of lower Manhattan around 1900 and set free in a way.  They struggle to make their way in the respective Jewish and Arabic communities with the help of one human in each community who understands what they are and decides to be a mentor. Inevitably they meet and understand they are in the presence of an "other" like them.  The story has a flow that constantly draws you in and along, with every character, no matter how minor, being well drawn and true to life.  The twists and turns were interesting and I did not see most of them coming.  The conclusion was satisfying (for me) and did not seem contrived, and I could not have told you the ending even when I was ten pages from the end.

This is a wonderful achievement for any author and stunning for this first time author.  It is as good as any book by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman and can be favorably compared to any novel I've read in the last number of years, regardless of genre.  It is fantasy in the way Salman Rushdie is fantasy but is more accessible and better plotted.  I recommend it to everyone.

1 comment:

Becky said...

It's on my list!!