HarperCollins gets ARC's to us bloggers by sending us a few fiction and non-fiction choices every quarter. We can take none, one, or a few. I always try to take 1 or 2. I'm not sure why I chose The Golem and the Jinni - but I'm glad I did. This book was written by Helene Wecker, who has lived in a bunch of places including, currently, the Bay Area. I didn't know that until after I read the book, but I'm glad because, first of all, I really liked the book and, second of all, as everybody knows, I love to support local authors (I'm up to 28 now!).
This story takes place in New York City in 1899. It concentrates on 2 immigrant communities. One of the communities is Syrian. This makes sense since a jinn is the equivalent of an Arab genie; a spirit that is specifically mentioned in the Koran. In fact, the jinn, along with humans and angels, make up the 3 conscious, thinking creations of God. A jinn can assume human or animal form and can, and often does, exercise supernatural influence over people.
The other community is Jewish. This also makes sense because a golem is an animated being made entirely from inanimate materials; in this case, clay. The creator imbues (good one, eh?) the creature with human features and makes it wholly subordinate to its master.
Now, as the title would suggest, the golem and the jinni actually meet and form a relationship (I didn't say a physical relationship - get your mind out of the gutter!). And here's the very cool thing about the book. I loved them together. Being who and what they are, you would expect them to be "eccentric." And eccentric they are. But they seem like real people with real human characteristics and, in some cases, emotions. In fact, there are parts of the book where other characters are either practicing magic or are subject to magic - and those seemed much less real to me! Helene has made her magical creatures so real that they make others look unreal. That doesn't seem like an easy thing to accomplish. Nicely done, Helene.
The book obviously revolves around the golem (who is literally days old when she meets the jinni) and the jinni (who is hundreds of years old when he meets the golem). But there are a ton of really interesting characters besides the G and the J. In order to avoid an oversized paragraph, I'm going to list them in bulletpoint (but in random order).
The Rabbi - who takes the golem in when she is master-less
The Rabbi's Nephew - who becomes very involved in the golem's life
The Syrian Ice Cream Seller - who was a doctor in his native country but who sells ice cream in his
Syrian neighborhood and can't look people in the eye
The Golem creator - who...(no hints with this guy)
The Syrian Tinsmith - who takes the jinni in and teaches him his craft
The Jewish Baker And His Wife - who run the local bakery and who hire the golem
The Syrian Coffee House Owner And His Wife - who are the social glue in their neighborhood
The Goatherd And His Daughter - who the jinni interacts with hundreds of years earlier
The Wealthy Socialite Daughter - who gets to know the jinni in a pretty intimate way (now you can put
your mind in the gutter)
The Young Neighborhood Syrian Boy - who becomes attached to the jinni
That's a lot of people. And they're all interesting and important to the story. Cool, huh?
It's common practice to emphasize an author's debut novel. I say, so what. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, also a debut novel, is one of my top 12 all-time. Rayme Water's The Angels' Share got a 4 (out of 4) from me. A good, well-written book is just that - whether it's 1st or 20th (Ken Follett) or 50th (Stephen King). The Golem and the Jinni is a very good book, period. I strongly recommend it.
P.S. I loved the ending.