Who knew epic fiction could be so intricate and fast-paced at the same time?
I’ve owned The Golem and the Jinn on Amazon Kindle for maybe two years or more. Like so many books on my Kindle (I can’t read them all at once!!!), I realized that I put the book off for way too long.
What drew me to The Golem and the Jinn is my love for mysticism and magic in magical fiction, especially esoteric cultures from the Middle East. The religious traditions of Judaism and Islam have a plethora of material to use for occult fiction, from the Kabbalah to Sufism, ancient myths and lore. Helene Wecker did a great job of researching both Jewish and Islamic traditions, people from the Middle Eastern regions, European Jewish culture, New York circa 1899, and other subject matter for her novel. She created a story that was not only magical and engaging but respectful of the mystical cultures from these religious traditions.
This is a story where two main characters, a golem and a jinn (of course), start on their own path and meet somewhere before the middle. What results in their meeting is a shared chaos, filled with adventure and suspense.
The first part of The Golem and the Jinn novel begins in Europe, where a male client approaches a Kabbalistic magician to make him a wife. The magician constructs a golem and molds her the way the client instructs her to be made- obedient, smart, and curious. With this wife, named Chava for life in Hebrew, the client sets sail to New York in order to start married life as an immigrant in America, unaware of what to expect on their journey.
The second part of the story starts in Little Syria, NYC, when a jinn is released from an ancient copper flask. The jinn soon realizes that he doesn’t have the freedom he once had before his imprisonment in this flask, for he is forced to wear an artificial human shell. Trapped in this shell, he is renamed Ahmed, and must learn how to live with human beings… though the challenge does not prove to be easy.
Helene Wecker’s book, according to Kindle, was 809 pages long. I also saw the book in the store months before buying it, and it was huge! I expected The Golem and the Jinn to be a long, heavy read. I was wrong. The first night I read it got me nearly 200 pages in before bed, because I was hooked from the first paragraph. It’s interesting to see a writer who can make such an epic book that flows and keeps a story going from start to finish. This book is very grounded, with great characterization and good dialogue. There are multiple character perspectives outside of the two main characters, which I love as a fan of epic fantasies, where we see through the eyes of a rabbi, his nephew, the Kabbalist magician, other immigrants, and even more people from time to time. There’s also a cool, controlled shift between point of view for characters in a scene, where we may see through the eyes of one character for a number of paragraphs, then after a line space, see through the eyes of the character they’re interacting with in the next section. Helene also does a good job in bringing different miniature stories within the plot together, each side of the story revealing more about the characters and their fates.
The Kabbalist magician of the novel, who is the antagonist, is also a dark magician, one who could have been a rabbi with his training but used his magic for evil. Due to this, his scenes where he uses his magic are interesting and entertaining, adding to the drama and peril of the story. He’s a good villain, especially since he is able to hide his nefarious deeds until his victims least expect it. This creates a good challenge for the main characters of the story, who are unaware of their enemy for a long time, and must later come to terms with what the magician is doing before its too late.
Another thing about The Golem and the Jinn is that it isn’t mindless action fare. The reason this book works isn’t because there’s violence and craziness on every page (there’s hardly any). Action builds when it needs to, and the story is entertaining as well as intelligent. This book works because the story moves at a constant pace with efficient detail, not too fast or slow, with engaging characters, thoughtful looks at emotion, society, and culture. You can believe that the golem and jinn act in ways that real magical beings would act if they had to live among mankind and learn how to control their natural temperaments, which are far removed from how humans really live, while experiencing emotions that we can easily identify with as human beings.
Helene Wecker is a great author that I want to learn from. She doesn’t dumb down her story at all. It’s descriptive and detailed, but not flowery, and not slow. The way she can keep a great pace with loads of detail while sticking to the story is admirable. I tend to like more epic, prose-heavy writers, and this is the best example of a writer who doesn’t skim detail, while having the ability to attract people who are more for the story and faster ways to get to plot and characters. It’s a talent I haven’t seen executed in this way before, bridging the worlds between a literary style and a style accessible to all.
I’ve read a lot of good books this year. I’m entrenched in Fire and Ice, about to start A Dance with Dragons, read Mark Wood’s Fear of the Dark, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lazon’s Mayan Blue, and of course, poured through so many comics. The Jinn and the Golem may be tied with George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows as my favorite book I’ve read in 2016, but it’s still summer time. I recommend The Jinn and the Golem to anyone that likes magic, different cultures, late 19th-century New York, and great storytelling. A sequel, The Iron Season, will be out in 2018.