Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

[The following review is part of the Nowhere But Home blog tour managed by TLC Book Tours.  For a full list of host blogs for the tour, see the tour page.  For more on Helene Wecker and her work, visit her website, www.helenewecker.com.]

By Jessica Veter
New York, 1899.

The flood of immigrants to the new world includes a golem, new-born and masterless, and a jinni, released at last from a thousand years’ imprisonment. Afraid that their true natures will be discovered, Chava and Ahmad try to blend into the Jewish and Syrian migrant communities of turn-of-the-century New York.

>It is not easy for them. The constant effort to be something they are not takes an emotional toll, and their meeting is an opportunity for them to be themselves. Their friendship, however, leads to a tragedy which endangers their existence and the lives of the humans who have befriended them.
Three cheers for Helene Wecker! In a market overflowing with vampires and witches and werewolves, here we have some fabled beings who haven’t been done to death. Chava and Ahmad, imperfect, unhappy, coping with tragedy as best they can and creating beauty in a society which fears them, lure us irresistibly into their world.

We are treated to a rich, layered setting, a diverse cast and an irresistible portrait of a time when promise so often gave way to hardship and indifference. From the streets to the rooftops, Wecker places us so firmly on location that the reader still catches glimpses of it just out of the corner of the eye long after the book is done.

Given the violent reputation of golems and the fiery nature of jinnis, one would expect this novel to be action-packed and tense, but the action very much takes a back seat to the deeper moral questions of the book: what does it mean to leave your homeland and how is it possible to find a place in a land and a culture that is not your own? Chava’s and Ahmad’s experiences mirror the struggles of migrants throughout history: reshaping themselves enough in order to settle into the new country, yet at the same time fighting not to lose what it is that defines them and sets them apart.

What a wonderful effect when historical fiction and fantasy are woven together! The fantastic nature of Chava and Ahmad allows every reader to recognize them as the ‘other’, while the story remains firmly anchored – on all levels -- within the Jewish and Syrian migrant communities of the early twentieth century. And as the best fantasy does, the novel makes honest observations about the past and timely observations about the present. Wecker gives voice, context and history to communities which have traditionally been silenced, and in the end, she gives us a satisfactory finale which rings true and looks forward with a healthy practicality: change is necessary, but it is not necessarily bad.

4 star-shaped cookies to Helene Wecker for THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI... with sprinkles on top.

If you want more information about New York in 1899 (and why the heck not? Don’t leave me the only one in the room with a head full of fascinating trivia) go to http://www.helenewecker.com/new-york-in-1899/
About the Author:  Helene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

She now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter.
THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is her first novel. (source: www.helenewecker.com)

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About the Reviewer:  Jessica Veter is a novelist raised in rural Ontario. Having escaped to Toronto, she spent the 90’s over-educating herself at York University and then the University of Toronto. Once she accepted that there were never going to be any job listings in The Globe and Mail headed “Medievalist Wanted”, Jessica went to Japan. There, she met her husband and they lived in England before returning to Canada with a son and a greyhound.  Now in rural Flamborough, Jessica and her husband raise 3 boys, 6 chickens and are owned by 1 dog. You are welcome to visit her at www.jessicaveter.com.

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