The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

(9.2/10) A charming love story with pleasing emotional depth

Book of the Year 2013 (see all)

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni was a book I enjoyed a great deal. Her characters were fascinating, felt real and I enjoyed exploring their histories as the book progressed. I also found that the main setting and narrative evoked wonderful images of nineteenth century New York. But what I enjoyed most was the chance to experience the Jewish and Arab folklore that was fundamental to the book’s being.

In The Golem and the Djinni the titular golem of the title is Chava, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. The djinni is Ahmad, 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. The Golem and The Djinni is their story and it is a tale that will resonate strongly with immigrants the world over.

I’m a Stephen King fan and have been for decades. If there is one element in his writing I enjoy most it is probably be the way he introduces characters and then supplies a backstory that gives meaning to the narrative and shape to the character. This is something that Wecker does extremely well and was just one of the many reasons I enjoyed this book. She writes elegantly and fluently and I also admired her ambition - many authors have written about a golem, many have written about a djinni, but none that I can think of have brought them both together in a story so seamlessly and to make it work so brilliantly is an achievement. There is great pleasure to be found in watching these two alien strangers develop their unlikely relationship.

The Golem and the Djinni is first rate historical fantasy fiction which makes you care deeply about the characters and instils and eagerness and a need to find how it will all end. It is a wonderful debut novel that brings to life a 1899 New York every bit as atmospheric as the London Conan Doyle created for Holmes. This is a book that consistently delights, a charming love story with pleasing emotional depth.

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