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Friday, March 21, 2014

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Book Review: The Golem and The Jinni

I was skeptical when I began The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I had just read a fantasy that turned out to be much more YA than anticipated, and I didn't want to have that experience again. I wanted fantasy but not of the teenage variety. This book, is anything but.

It is a beautifully written and complex tale of two extraordinary beings whose lives intertwine in a compelling story of the nature of life.

The Golem is awakened on a ship headed to America. For those of you who don't know, a golem is a servant made out of clay whose sole purpose is to know and fulfill the desires of their master. This Golem was created to be a wife. She is more complex than most golems and no on can tell that she is not human. But almost immediately after she is brought to life, her master dies, leaving her alone and able to sense the desires of everyone around her. The ship soon arrives in New York city, leaving her to face a new world, a new existence alone.
She is soon discovered by an old Rabbi who recognizes her for what she is. He shows her mercy and rather than destroying her, takes her in, teaches her to behave like a human, and names her Chava.
Not but a few miles away a tinsmith begins work on an old oil lamp that needs repair. As he touches the lamp's strange scroll work, there is a great flash and suddenly a beautiful but naked man is lying on his shop floor. This man is really a jinni. The Jinni does not remember how he became trapped in the oil lamp or why he has an iron shackle on his arm keeping him from transforming into his true form of wind and fire. The shop keeper shows him kindness, takes him on as an apprentice (the jin are expert metal workers), and helps the Jinni name himself Ahmad.

Chava and Ahmad, two very different creatures with very different natures, find each other and connect. Their story is one of friendship, pain, and mysticism that captures your heart and imagination even after the last page.

It's really good. The writing is intelligent, and the characters are multidimensional. It's a book that is fun to read because of the way the words are written. It's also fun to read because golems and jinnis aren't common fantastical creatures that you come across in most fantasy novels. Wecker does a great job exploring the cultures these myths are a part of. Wecker also does a great job weaving the complicated narrative together.

Throughout the story we see many events from different points of view. We are behind the eyes of Chava and Ahmad, but also the Rabbi, the tinsmith, an old man who sells ice cream, a wealthy young woman on the eve of marriage, and more. Each point of view adds something the story. But not until the end do you realize how important each of their points of view and actions were. The story suddenly spirals into such a giant plot twist of connectivity, that you see that everything that Wecker has shown you has been important. I was very impressed.

I will say however, that this wasn't quite the book I was expecting it to be. In good ways, and some slightly disappointing ways. When I read the "official" book description wherever it was that I found it, it pushes the romance. So, naturally, I was expecting a romance. That is not this book. The Golem and the Jinni is not a tale of romance between these two larger-than-life individuals but rather the story of how their romance came to be. You know that there will be a powerful and complicated romance in their future, but you won't really read it in this book. I just thought that I would give that warning before someone jumps in expecting something they aren't going to get.

But despite being a tad misled by a description, I very much enjoyed this book. If you like fantasy, mysticism, period literature, and overall really good books, put The Golem and the Jinni at the top of your list.

Have you read The Golem and the Jinni? What did you think? Were you surprised by the big twist, or did you see it coming?

Title: The Golem and the Jinni

Author:  Helene Wecker

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Male and Female readers from YA level and up

Final Rating: Four out of Five mugs of hot chocolate

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