The Golem and the Jinni Audiobook
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I loved every part of this book. The author weaves together Arabic and Jewish mysticism and sets it against the background of immigrant society in turn-of-the-century New York. The characters are deeply complex. Considering that these are mythical creatures, it is a bizarre experience to realize that they are also completely relatable. Their inner dialogue is Intensively revealing, and the dialogue between characters is wonderfully written. I haven’t been this swept away by a novel in a very long time.
The Golem and the Jinni audiobook Series Shifters Unbound
I had heard good things about this book so when it was on $1.99 special, I jumped at the chance to download it to my Kindle. I’m really glad I did.
One of the things that stands out for me is the worldbuilding. The author has clearly done a lot of research regarding setting, culture, and activities/behaviors of different groups of people, and it shows. Naturally, turn-of-the-century (that is, circa 1900) New York is the most richly-imagined location because the majority of the book takes place there. But we also get a sense of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and of Syria (both late 1800’s Syria and the desert from many centuries before that, including the Bedouins who traveled the desert). I thought the details were well-integrated into the book. I never felt like information was being dumped.
Another aspect of the book I thought was excellent was the way the Golem of the title served as a proxy for the reader to learn about the city. She was awakened on a ship crossing the Atlantic (not really a spoiler as it happens in the first or second chapter) so she has no experience of anything prior to the voyage. She is sensitive to the feelings of others and has to learn how to control herself in the presence of others who are harboring strong emotions — she doesn’t understand, at first, that it’s considered improper to steal food and give it to a hungry person. She also requires explanations of things that someone familiar with the city (or human society, for that matter) wouldn’t require, and she has to learn even the most basic things — for example, that if she walks around the city with muddy boots and a wet dress, people will take notice.
Of the two title characters, the Golem was the most sympathetic to me. Perhaps because she had the most to lose — what’s made can be unmade. The Jinni was a little more rash, a little less careful. Granted, he had a male form and the dictates of society at the time were such that men had a lot more freedom. And he was already bound in human form (again, not really a spoiler as this information is given very early in the book), so he had little else to lose. I suppose it was also in the characters’ natures — a Golem is made to serve a master, whereas a Jinni would naturally be free and might move from place to place to explore.
Early in the book, we basically alternate between chapters about the Golem and chapters about the Jinni, mostly in New York. Occasionally, there will be a chapter or scene about another character (Yehudah Schaalman, an elderly Jewish man from the Old World; Fadwa, a Bedouin girl from a thousand years before the story was set; Mahmoud Saleh, a Syrian doctor down on his luck; Sophia Winston, a New York heiress). And the Golem and Jinni interact with others in their communities, including the people who took them in (for the Golem, an aging rabbi, and for the Jinni, a Syrian tinsmith).
At first, I would wonder why these side characters (not the mentors, but the others) were getting so much time on the page. But it turns out that each one of them interacts with one or more of the title characters at key points. When I went back and thought about it, I realized that the scenes from other points of view were in just the right places in a temporal sense (i.e., chronologically in the story) as well as in a narrative sense (giving the necessary information at the right time in the story). So the story was definitely well-planned.
The writing did its job — it told the story without being intrusive. I didn’t come across expressions that broke immersion (sadly, the same can’t be said for some other books I’ve read lately — so this one was a welcome change).
Magic in this book is both cultural and religious. Obviously, Golems come from Jewish lore and Jinnis are from the Arab world. Other types of magical workings are hinted at, but the clearest picture and the cross-cultural aspect really doesn’t emerge until very late in the book (so I won’t say any more about that).
This is not really a book with a lot of action. Yes, some exciting/dangerous events do occur. But I had read at least 1/3 of the book before I realized I still had no idea what the plot was going to be. I guess I was so immersed in the world the author had created that those pages flew by. However, when I got to the end, it became obvious that the author HAD been setting up the final confrontation all along, just in a subtle way. I was not bored at all by the slow start; like I said, I barely even realized it until I’d already read a good chunk of the book. (It’s a pretty long book at 646 pages in my Kindle edition. But I read it in 2 days, nonetheless.)
Some aspects of the ending were sad, many were unexpected, and some offered hope. I suppose you could call it bittersweet. I think it was definitely fitting. It’s my understanding that this was a debut novel and yet it imparts the feeling of having come from a more experienced author. In the end, I’m definitely glad I read this and I will look for other books from the same author.
Audiobook The Golem and the Jinni by Cris Dukehart
This is simply a staggeringly good book for the majority of its substantial length. I was totally absorbed for about the fist 60%, fascinated by the astonishingly profound imagination about what it would be like to be a golem (a monster of Jewish mythology), but a profound and compassionate woman golem, learning what it was like to live and work in a Jewish New York neighborhood of long ago. Second place is filled rather well by a djinn. Both of them explore the local businesses, foods, religion and customs. But after about 60%of the book, I became lost as the author takes new tacks with both characters. I lost track of some of the many characters and their very important experiences. Had I known, I’d have done what I suggest you consider: first of all, list the characters in the novel and make notes about them from the start as you go along; second, realize the author will take wholly different paths in the last part of the novel. Unprepared for this, I didn’t take notes, and I was baffled by what was going on (particularly with the djinn) in the last part. I loved the characters and the action in the first 60%, and remain partly baffled by the remaining 40%.
Audio The Golem and the Jinni narrated by Cris Dukehart
As someone who doesn’t normally read fiction I’m somewhat leery about where my book club may venture, but despite that skepticism I found “The Golem and the Jinni” to be captivating and thoroughly enjoyable, which is quite astonishing since it is Helene Wicker’s first novel. I do have to admit I was intrigued at the premise of a book dealing with two creatures from mythology, the Golem from Judaism and the Jinni (or Genie) from Arabic culture. How on earth would Wicker put the two together? What would they do? Both creatures are so vastly different, given very different attributes, how would this unfold? Was it some bizarre mash up like the regrettably bad “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”? Despite the somewhat slow start “The Golem and the Jinni” slowly builds momentum, chapter by chapter alternating between the story of the Golem and the Jinni and how they came to turn of the century New York City, a land of immigrants, and these two the strangest of them! Not that most people in that teeming city saw or met them. Their introduction to New York is radically different in virtually every respect and like the cultures that created them, they settle in their respective communities, the Golem in the Lower East Side and the Jinni in Little Syria in the Lower West Side. Readers are treated to the creation story of the Golem and how she winds up ultimately alone to wend her way through New York. I would love to give more details but hate spoilers. That said, the character of the Golem, eventually dubbed Chava, is probably more relatable of the two, at least to me. Despite the potentially destructive and violent nature of a Golem Chava is love personified, even though she has no object for her devotion. The Jinni, capricious and flighty by nature is perhaps the less relatable of the two. Tempestuous and easily angered he lives up to the nature of the Jin in Arabic tales and in many respects he reminded me of Kokopeli, the trickster shaman of the desert Southwest in so many Native American tales. Wicker masterfully finds ways to wend both of these characters into their respective communities and in the process creates the narrative linking them to their past and their tentative and uncertain future. And both have a past that is rapidly catching up to their present circumstance even as they create new lives for themselves.
How the two disparate story lines merge I won’t give away, suffice to say it is a chance meeting where both realize they are not of the mortal world. This sense of “other” has parallels to other communities in ways I hadn’t contemplated and perhaps that is a metaphor Wicker is shooting for. The two are clearly a boon and exasperating for their mortal counterparts who desire to find ways to harness them all while fearful of their true identities being revealed or exposed. Think of it as a less comedic “Bewitched”. As both are increasingly pursued by a past they cannot escape they realize they must work together to avoid their worst fears coming to fruition. It is here were the book is the most captivating and makes for the best reading. There were points where I simply could not put “The Golem and the Jinni” down as I had to know what was going to happen next. Wicker is great at creating suspense and quite honestly I find it hard to believe this is her first novel as she pulls readers into the world of early 20th Century New York City and these two mythical creatures come to life. Towards the end the two are facing potential oblivion yet work together to attempt to thwart that from happening. To be honest the end is a bit dissatisfying and I was torn as to whether Wicker wanted to attempt a sequel or simply couldn’t figure out a suitable ending for these two very different creatures. And in reality perhaps that’s what she wanted was for readers to determine what they thought would happen. But don’t let the tentative ending dampen your enthusiasm for “The Golem and the Jinni” as it truly is a delight! I’ve read so many utterly disappointing first efforts that I’m now interested to see what Wicker can craft next!
Free audio The Golem and the Jinni – in the audio player below
The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker, is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy. The historical part is set in New York around the year 1900, at which time the city was divided into many segments according to the country of origin of various immigrant groups. The two which are most in view are the Syrian and Jewish areas, with occasional forays up into much more affluent zones.
The fantasy element – highlighted by the book title – comes in two parts. The golem, a manufactured creature derived from Jewish thought, is female in form, and was originally constructed to be wife to an Eastern European immigrant. He dies on board ship, leaving Chava to find her own way through life. Her impulse to obey the unspoken needs and wants of the people around are a constant source of difficulty, as she tries to reconcile conflicting demands.
The djinni represents the Syrian area – a creature of fire, and many centuries old, he was bound long ago into human form by the work of a magician. His struggle is to avoid boredom without being discovered, and also to find a way to unravel the binding.
Inevitably the two come into contact, and try to resolve the two problems at once. They are opposites in many ways – one built for obedience and conformity but having to make her own choices, and the other craving a wild and unrestrained life but having to manage limitation. Around that basic polarity a collection of interesting human characters orbit, and the exploration of cross-cultural New York is itself fascinating. One particular character – perhaps the only one with a malignant agenda, and at times a little cartòonish – comes to dominate the plot line in the later stages, as each of the others decides how to cope with his influence.
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