Book Review: The Mighty Rivers of The Golem and the Jinni

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Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni is at once easy and terribly difficult to describe.  It fits into many genres and so can be easily classified, but the combination of these genres sets it among few fellows, and its style is something new for me as well.

When people have asked me what I’ve been reading, I’ve replied that it is an adult historical urban low fantasy about two mythological creatures trying to cope with living as humans in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.  There: easily reduced into a single sentence, but what a sentence to unpack.

The Golem and the Jinni is more slowly paced than many of the books that I typically read, and that was somewhat difficult for me.  A lot of this slower pace comes from the construction of its plot.  I have very much struggled with how to describe this construction, and my best attempt thus far is to compare it to a river being fed by tributaries.  Wecker shows us glimpses of the tributaries, separate entities, and then these tributaries will meet and the story will build in power and depth.  There are, I would argue, three main tributaries to the story: that of the Jinni, that of the Golem, and that of the Mahmoud Saleh.  Creeks feed into these tributaries:  Heiress Sophia Winston’s, the young boy Matthew’s, tinsmith Arbeely’s, Bedouin Fadwa al-Hadad’s all feed into the Jinni’s story.  The stories of a retired rabbi; his atheist nephew Michael Levy; and loose Anna all feed into the Golem’s.  Saleh’s storyline is fairly isolated as is Saleh.  The river itself has a source.  This source is yet another storyline.  It begins as a weak storyline, but it is ultimately the one to which all the others are bound, the one which influences them all.

Yes.  That was somewhat cryptic.  It is difficult to explain, and more so when I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.

In retrospect, I respect and am impressed by the rivers of the story’s construction too, however much I found it slow before the two of the main tributary characters met around page 175.

Within these many storyline churn as many themes and questions.  Wecker uses her characters to explore the ideas of independence and freedom and enslavement, nature versus nurture, humanity, free will, belief, religion, magic, reality, living in the past and living in the future and living in the present, friendship, love, honesty and concealment, prejudice, mortality and immortality, the power and danger of knowledge….  Some of these she obviously covers in more detail than others, but she touches upon them all.

Ultimately, the story takes on a romantic element.  It was a quiet and natural romance.

The climax was both satisfying and thrilling.  I loved the ending!

I was trying to read many books simultaneously with The Golem and the Jinni, but The Golem and the Jinni was the first to grab and hold me.  By page 200, The Golem and the Jinni was providing me with the reading that I’d apparently been missing from the others, with the transportation to another realm that reading in any form ought to provide.

****

Wecker, Helene.  The Golem and the Jinni.  New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Helene Wecker or HarperCollins.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.  The review is of an advanced reader’s edition sent to Barnes & Noble by the publisher.

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