Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blog Tour Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

From the Back Cover:

Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899.

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.

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.

My Thoughts:

In 1899, two magical creatures are unwittingly transported from the old world to the new, set adrift in a sea of humanity in a rapidly changing New York City. The Golem Chava loses her master shortly after she awakens on a transatlantic crossing and must figure out what to do in a strange world with no money, no resources, and no direction. After a thousand-year imprisonment, the jinni Ahmad is freed to find the only world he ever knew no longer exists, and that he is bound to an unknown master. Both creatures must learn how to blend in, and after months of doing so, meeting each other is a shock. They are complete opposites: he fiery, passionate, curious -- she serious, cautious, and shy. But despite their differences and the initial unease between them, a special friendship forms. Weary of pretending to be human, they find a freedom in being themselves with each other. Chava and Ahmad's journey of discovery is interwoven with snippets of the past: tales of the jinn in folklore, Ahmad's younger years, and the darker side of Kabbalah, the tale of how Chava's creator came to be who he was, and how Ahmad came to be trapped by his mysterious master. And as it all slowly unfolds, the terrible link they have in common is revealed, along with the lengths they will have to go to to protect innocent people from an ancient evil.

Intertwined with their stories are those of the people they live among. Mostly fellow immigrants, their journeys are movingly depicted, from leaving their old lives behind to forging new opportunities, to weighing setbacks and heartbreak against the joys of success and contentment of purpose and community. The research and attention to detail bring New York at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly Little Syria and the Jewish community, to life, placing two magical creatures in a very human world, full of the paradigms that make it such a wondrous place. The merging of the old world and new, beauty and love and goodwill, cruelty and unjustness and fear... Our characters witness highs and lows of the human condition that make them question whether a difficult existence in an already difficult world is worth it, but always the thirst to experience life wins out.

The Golem and the Jinni is a superbly written debut. It's a magical tale, but the magic is not overt. It's subtle, and lies more in the sense of wonder and creation than the fantastical. Something else I liked about this book: it's a really pure story -- there's no scholarly or political agenda anywhere, it's simply a fictional tale taking place in a very convincing and appealing historical setting. It's a thick read -- there's a lot of description (there has to be since the two main characters are new to the world and take in their surroundings with that newborn inquisitiveness), and I did find the pacing a bit too slow at times. But it builds up to a dangerous and pulse-pounding conclusion, followed by a tender and hopeful ending. The characterization and period detail are excellent, and the story is surprisingly sweet and poignant. I'd recommend it to anyone in the mood for something different in historical fiction; it's fanciful, yet still intellectual and meaningful. I really enjoyed it.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

on the Historical Novel Society website!

Enter to win your own copy of
The Golem and the Jinni
Simply leave a comment with your
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This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada and ends at 11:59pm Monday, May 6, 2013. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
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The Golem and the Jinni is on a blog tour!
Click here to view the tour schedule.
Click here to visit Helene Wecker's website.


  1. I am ridiculously excited to read this book. It seems like a really, really unique story Historical fiction? Magic? New York City? Mythology? This book sounds so down my alley.

    I read the interview and loved reading about her inspiration coming from her husband and her background. I always love seeing where people get their inspiration from.


  2. This sounds really good. I can stick with a story that slows down a bit, as long as it's worth the effort. Thanks for the giveaway.

  3. I've been hearing about The Golem and the Jinni for a while now and I'm so glad to see that it is finally being released. I think it sounds like a very entertaining read and I'd really like to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. This sounds like a fantastic book! I just stumbled upon this today, and am really excited for this. Thanks for the great review and interview and for offering the giveaway.

  5. I love immigrant stories but this one might be too fantastical for me.

  6. This books sounds amazing! I love the supernatural twist :)


  7. It's rare for me that a blurb sends me out to read a book but this one did.

    Keith antproof(at)gmail(dot)com

  8. Oh this sounds beautiful. I'm almost glad that the magic in the book sounds so subtle. pabkins at the gmail dot the com

  9. Well written review. You give a lot of information to help a reader get a feel for the book rather and tell just enough plot to peek the curiosity.

    minusbar (at) gmail (dot) com

  10. I am so looking forward to this book, but my indie sold out of all the copies they had by Friday. Would love to enter while I wait for restock. booklove@sawcatsverse.com

  11. Looking forward to reading this one! kristihill@comcast.net

  12. I've been seeing some good reviews for this one. Please count me in! Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  13. This sounds intriguing-thanks for the chance to win a copy!
    rexmoy (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. this novel sounds memorable and unique. thanks for this wonderful giveaway. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  15. I am captivated with this intriguing book and would enjoy it greatly. thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  16. would love to give The Golem & the Jinni a try!!!

    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  17. I just saw this in my library newsletter and thought it looked fantastic. I'm glad to read your review! Thanks for the giveaway!

    theintrovertedreader at gmail dot com

  18. I liked the book as well (http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=8188) and thought that the child like curiosity of the golem and the jinni was a great way to tell a historical fiction story.

  19. Rich with emotional intelligence and human interaction, it's a story about living with possibilities and not impossible hopes or dreams. It is a lovely and very human story, and I highly recommend it to everyone who reads books that is over the age of twelve. A Thumping Good Read of the Highest Order!
    Highly recommended Seattle Divorce Lawyer Engle Law Group


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