Review | The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

An engrossing story with excellent period detail. 4/5 stars.

The Golem and the Djinni book cover

I sought this out at the library based entirely on the recommendation of Emily at A Keyboard and an Open Mind. Thank you! Here’s her review.

The blurb: Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. 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 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they 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 readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale

My take:

This is a powerful story which unfurls slowly. You’ll need to give the book your patience for a while, but it’s worth it.

Less of a fantasy and more a fairy tale, the narrative voice has the dispassionate distance and spellbinding quality of all classic folk yarns. And yet the fantastical elements of the plot never overwhelm the narrative thanks to the thoroughly-researched and exquisitely-recreated period details of New York at the end of the nineteenth century.

The plotting is superb. The book transitions between countries and centuries as it switches between inter-connected plot strands but we never feel lost or need to remind ourselves where we are or what’s going on. In many ways this book reminded my of The Night Circus (here’s my review of that book) but, unlike Morgenstern’s book, The Golem and the Djinni avoids confusing the reader by focusing on a smaller number of characters and, when it reveals its secrets, it leaves all the “why”, “when” and “how” crystal clear.

The only downside of the book’s fairy tale qualities was that I didn’t truly connect with any of the characters.  Nevertheless, they were an intriguing and memorable group, and I did care enough to want to follow their fates.

Overall: highly recommended if you have the time to invest. Avoid if you’re looking for something swift and action-packed.

 


Claire Huston / Art and Soul
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20 thoughts on “Review | The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

  1. Thanks for sharing this review Claire! This book has been on my shelf for some time and I’ve been considering adding it to my 2016 reads. I think I’ll definitely be trying it out in the next few months, especially if it’s reminiscent of The Night Circus 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved the atmosphere of the book. It was wonderful! But I agree about the characters. I did like Chava, but I never could connect with Ahmad. It also reminded me of The Night Circus, I think because of the atmosphere. I simply adored The Night Circus and have read it several times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine The Night Circus gets better with rereading because you know what’s going on so can concentrate on the fantastic descriptions. I’ll definitely read both Morgenstern and Wecker’s next books. They’re clearly gifted and hopefully can only get better!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      I gave The Night Circus 4*s too. Not only because some of the characters left me cold, but also because I didn’t find the book very “user-friendly”. All the time skipping started to confuse and distract me. That said, I could have read an unending description of the circus which I can still picture now. Amazing writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what both Morgenstern and Wecker write next.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah definitely. It used some interesting techniques, but it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d connected with it very well :/ But you’re right, the reason I still liked it was because I could really picture that circus- even now. Definitely!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 27th January 2016 | Art and Soul

  4. As I was reading your review I was thinking, ‘This sounds a little like The Night Circus,’ and then when you said it was similar I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for guessing that.
    Anywho I loved the review and now I want to read this book even more as it sounds so interesting and beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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