The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker

Although this book is, as the title implies, about two supernatural creatures... the core of this story is about the human condition. Chava (the golem) and Ahmad (the jinni) are both new to America, just like the countless immigrants that surround them in this tale set in 1899 New York City.

 

The two struggle with the meaning of life, their purpose in life, and even though they have long life spans, they also deal with their mortality: the choice of living or committing suicide. It delves into feelings of isolation and finding connections with others in order to remain grounded. It also covers gratification and dealing with the choices one makes that can complicate the lives of others.

 

 

The good: the story is strong, it is well written (grammar, spelling, descriptive, etc.), the two main characters are distinct and interesting. I was really impressed to find out that this was a debut novel for this author. The settings weren't amazing but that's okay as I see this novel as being character driven for the most part.

 

Speaking of characters... the jinni was just awesome! It was weird that I liked him so much yet I really dreaded those flash back chapters with Fadwa! The golem was also super interesting, everything except that weird chapter where she pushes a bunch of pins into her flesh... that chapter was really out of place and odd. The ice cream man! His introduction chapter really put me off (probably because of the whole getting the rug pulled out from under me bit—see "The bad" below for more on that) but slowly he just grew on me and I think I liked him best out of the other supporting cast. The villain was also damn good and holy shit, the ending... when everything comes together... very satisfying.

 

Some quotes! After the golem tries eating for the first time:

"The next afternoon, however, she felt a strange cramp in her lower abdomen. Hesitant to leave—the halls were crowded with neighbors, and the Rabbi was out on an errand—she fetched a large bowl from the kitchen, then bunched up her skirts, pulled down her underclothes, and expelled into the bowl a small amount of mashed bread, seemingly unaltered by its journey. When the Golem later excitedly described to the Rabbi what had happened, he turned a bit red and congratulated her on her discovery, and then asked her not to do it again."

This is a quote I jotted down because, as simple as it is, this really made me love the jinni! It was little bits like this that really just made him irresistible. This is their second meeting... and the golem spots him outside her window and freaks out.

"She crept back to the window's edge and peered out. He was still there, alone, leaning against the lamppost. As she watched, he rolled himself a cigarette, and then, without benefit of a match, touched his finger to the end and inhaled. All this without glancing at her window. He was, she realized, certain of his audience. And he was enjoying himself."

 

The bad: the pacing was atrocious. This is one of those books that has multiple character perspectives (around 10), each with a tale of their own that slowly connect together to reach the final climax. I love books of this nature because I love seeing the plot built before me in this fashion, however, this book just did it wrong somehow.

 

It was almost like the moment I started feeling a connection to a character the author would pull the rug out from under me and throw me into a character that was new or one that I wasn't liking or interested in. It wasn't until around chapter 19/30 that I felt anything for the characters... but after that point I think it improved and I was able to really connect with both main characters and even a side character or two.

 

I was disappointed with how Sophia was not really given a proper resolution. The only loose end that didn't get a pretty ribbon (that I can recall, anyway).

 

Around chapter 21 I noticed that the word 'chagrin' was being way overused. Can't say I noticed anything else with the writing. The editors involved with this book did a great job, IMHO.

 

Here's a quote I didn't like so much. I don't know why it bothers me so much when the word stomach is used for this type of description... it was used at least twice which is the only reason I even noticed. Eh, I guess I would have been suspicious if everything had been perfect. :P

"All morning, as she worked, she would close her eyes and imagine herself there again, feeling the trail of his lips on her hand, and the glow that had answered it low in her stomach."

 

K, ending on a funny note! This made me LOL... sounded like something my mother would have said to my father.

"Go boil your head like a turnip."

Great book! Highly recommended! :D

 

Notes:

Soundtrack Selection - If You Leave by Daughter