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The Golem and the Jinni

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Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic, created to be the wife of a man who dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

486 pages, Hardcover

First published April 13, 2013

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About the author

Helene Wecker

10 books3,881 followers
Helene Wecker’s first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, was awarded the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature, the VCU Cabell Award for First Novel, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and was nominated for a Nebula Award and a World Fantasy Award. Its sequel, The Hidden Palace, was published in June 2021. A Midwest native, she holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Joyland and Catamaran, as well as the fantasy anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and children.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
March 27, 2023
I am trying something a little different here. I found The Golem and the Jinni to be a fun, magical fairy tale of a romance with a fair bit of excitement to it. But it is pretty clear that this is also a serious, literary work, raising meaningful philosophical questions, while using the folklore of two different cultures to inform the immigrant experience, offering a fascinating look at a place and time, and linking the experiences of the old and new worlds. These two takes seemed to call for different reviews. And, as I maintain only one identity on GR, the result is two, two, two reviews in one.


Everyone loves legends, lore, tales of long ago, filled with heroes and magical beings. They dilate our pupils, excite our imagination and provide the fodder for our dreams. Helene Wecker has written a very grown up fairy tale, bringing to life a pair of magical beings. In doing so she has transported old world legend to a place where and a time when vast numbers of more ordinary people were trying to create new dreams, new legends of their own, immigrant New York City at end of the 19th century.

The Golem is a clay creature constructed by a corrupt Kabalist near the city of Danzig, at the behest of Otto Rotfeld, an unsuccessful and unattractive young man. But Rotfeld was not looking for a thuggish destroyer. He wanted his golem to be made in the form of a woman and imbued with curiosity, intelligence and a sense of propriety. On the passage to New York, Otto suffers a burst appendix and dies, but not before he speaks the words that bring his creation to life. Newborn and alone, but with an ability to perceive the wants of those around her, the Golem is set loose in New York. Wandering around, she is spotted for what she really is by a retired rabbi on the Lower East Side. He takes her in, tries to get her settled and struggles with how to deal with the fact that she is a creature usually built for the purpose of destruction.

Helene Wecker - image from the Boston Globe

Not too far away, in Little Syria, an Arab immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan, Boutros Arbeely, a tinsmith, is brought an unusually old copper flask. While attempting to repair it, he is confronted by a magical being of his own, a handsome arrogant, and unclothed jinni. Unfortunately for the jinni, despite having been freed of the flask, he remains trapped in the shape of a human, bound there by an iron cuff on his wrist. In this telling jinnis, despite excelling at metalwork, have no power over iron. He will have to cope as a human.

Each faces challenges. The Golem, named Chava (which means life) by the rabbi must cope with the flood of wishes that assail her consciousness from the thousands of people around her. She must learn to keep her identity secret. This includes coping with the fact that she does not sleep, and that it is not considered ok for a young woman to be seen walking the city streets at night, even if her purpose is honorable. Like many immigrants before her, she is helped by prior arrivals. She learns to bake and gets a job in a bakery. Unable to go out at night she takes in sewing. How immigrant is that?

The jinni, taken in by the tinsmith, is given work in the shop, once it becomes apparent that he is a marvel with metal, able to heat and mold it with his bare hands. Boutros names him Ahmad. The jinni is also challenged to keep his true nature under cover. But a part of his nature is a lustful side. He is smitten with a young thing he encounters and one thing leads to another. Chava, while not much hot to trot herself, becomes an object of romantic interest to a very good young man.

Of course, in time, the two encounter each other, and that is where the story takes off. Not only is there magic in the interaction of these two friends, strangers in a strange land, they bring depth to their relationship, adding even more depth to this novel. Chava had had content-rich discussions with her rabbi rescuer, on matters such as why people risk so much to have sex, or whether people need a concept of God to keep them from self-destructing. She and Ahmad discuss the stresses of free will vs the certainty of slavery. They talk about her interest in satisfying the wishes of those around her while Ahmad is mostly concerned with satisfying his desires of a moment. A great part of the magic in this fable is how the two begin at extreme ends and meet somewhere in the middle, growing and changing, but very much aware of their limitations.

The two embody, in a way, the immigrant experience. Coming to a new country, learning new ways, changing in order to fit in, coming to value what has been found, building a life. But character growth, consideration of serious moral subjects and a moving relationship are not all that this book has going on. There is danger afoot.

Keeping the action moving, we get not only a look into the jinni’s ancient past, a fascinating and moving segment, but there is pursuit on those cobble-stoned streets. A person with evil intent is tracking the scent of magic and surviving this onslaught is the motive force. As we have come to care about both our primary characters their safety matters.

Not only has Wecker populated her fable with two wonderful leads, but her backup players are extremely rich. In fact this is one of the best supporting casts I have seen in a while.

The Golem and the Jinni has love, parental and romantic, philosophical heft, a vibrant picture of a place and time, the equivalent of an action/adventure trial-by-danger and enough magic to shake a wand at. In short it is everything in a book that you could possibly wish for.


It may not take you a thousand and one nights to read The Golem and the Jinni, but you may wish it did because you will hate to put it down.

It is 1899. In a town near Danzig, Otto Rotfeld is a failing Prussian Jewish businessman. He does not have much success with the ladies either. A leering and dismissive manner will do that. Determined to change his luck he opts to join the throng heading to that new Mecca, the USA. Figuring the female sorts there will find him as appealing as did those of the Old World, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Well, rather into the hands of a morally challenged Kabalist who is ok with crafting what Otto wants, a bespoke Golem, using the traditional clay, but made in the shape of a woman, and not the sort of towering, lumbering, bad-hair destroyer that usually pops to mind, thanks to early German cinema.

Or a more 20th century version

Gotta confess, I now see Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame in the role.
Image from syfy.com

Hey, the guy's got needs. (This raises the wonderful theoretical possibility of a high-end retail business, Build-a-Golem. Schmul, more clay, hurry up.) Unwell in his steerage accommodation, Otto is looking for a little companionship and wakes his special friend. Just in time, as it turns out, as Otto, and his burst appendix, fail to make it to the particular new world he was hoping to reach. This leaves a rather bewildered, powerful and telepathic mythical creature heading for Ellis Island. She finds an unusual way to cope when asked for her papers, which I will not spoil, then, wandering around the city, is taken in by a retired rabbi who sees her for what she really is. (Yeah, he’s a lot older, but he really sees me) The Golem truly is a stranger in a strange land, but she is not the only oddity on shore. ( I was not yet born. Don’t be mean)

In Little Syria, an immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan, a Maronite Catholic tinsmith, Boutros Arbeely, is brought a copper flask to repair. While beginning work on the piece with a soldering iron (no rubbing of the magic container this time) he is blasted across the room, and before you can say Robin Williams three times fast, there on his shop floor is a naked man. And it’s not even Halloween in the Village. Really, he is a creature made of fire and mist, but is confined by virtue of an iron bracelet into the form of a human. In this imagining, iron is something a jinni can’t do anything with, I guess like bad fashion sense. Sorry, no puff of smoke. But this magic man is a hottie. He is, of course, cut and handsome, but in addition, he is a natural metalworker. I will leave comments having to do with his ability to mold hard things to cruder reviewers. Boutros, despite the jinni’s arrogance, gives him a place to live and a job. He ain’t never had a friend like him. I see in my tiny mind the steamy Colin O'Donoghue (who played Captain Hook on the series Once Upon a Time), but am certainly open to other, more ethnically appropriate suggestions.


Maybe Mena Massoud of Aladdin fame

Ya think these two undocumenteds might cross paths? Duh-uh. But it will take some time, as each has his and her own road to travel.

==========In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25%, from 20,000 to 15,000 characters. In order to accommodate the text beyond that I have moved it to the comments section directly below.

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
January 28, 2016
All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.

Unsure what to think as I finally took the plunge into this 19th-Century New York tale of friendship, different cultures and, of course, magic, I found myself completely transported to another world.

I understand why readers often call The Golem and the Jinni "fantasy" - it certainly has the depth, epic scope and density of a fantasy novel, and yet, I'm more inclined to call it a combination of historical fiction and magical realism. But, whatever the genre, it's a beautifully-written story of finding one's place in a strange world, all wrapped up with a fascinating combination of Jewish and Arabian folklore.

The story follows two characters. Chava - a golem, created by dark magics paid for by her master, who longed for a wife. When her master dies on the Atlantic crossing from Europe to New York, Chava must navigate this new world alone, hide who she is, and figure out both how to live, and just exactly what she wants from life.

The other character is a Jinni called Ahmad. He lived in the Syrian desert until he was trapped in a flask by a wizard. Over a thousand years later, he emerges in New York when a tinsmith releases him from his prison. With the tinsmith's help and kindness, he too must figure out this new, strange world and find a place in it.

Though from very different backgrounds and cultures, these two foreigners' paths are destined to cross. United by their shared statuses as outsiders, a strange friendship develops, and they try to adjust to 19th Century New York City together.

It's a very whimsical, magical book, filled with delicious description (sometimes quite literally, as Chava works in a bakery). The plot and writing are dense, occasionally becoming overlong in certain parts, but not so much that I minded. It has a truly magical opening that draws you in, as well as two interesting main characters - which more than makes up for the slight drag of some chapters.

Sometimes, it is just so fascinating to be these two outsiders looking in at humanity. It is, at its most basic level, a tale of immigrants adjusting to a new land, but we also have the additional factor of it being two supernatural beings adjusting to humanity. Questions are raised about the human need for religion, free will vs. slavery, and why humans will sacrifice so much for sexual desire.

It is simultaneously a look at 19th century American culture through the eyes of foreign immigrants, and a look at humanity through the eyes of foreign beings. Both clever and magical.

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Profile Image for Mitch.
355 reviews611 followers
August 9, 2016
Just this once, I wish I could say 'The Golem and the Jinni is awesome. Trust me.' and just leave it at that. Not only because it is, but also because Helene Wecker's debut novel is a hard book to put into words, full of wonder and meaning, and an experience I don't think any review can fully do justice to. Still, even though I'll probably miss things, here goes...

Chava is a golem. Ahmad is a jinni. This is not a story of their chance encounter and subsequent whirlwind romance among century ago New York's immigrant community. No, this is one of those books. The ones that ponder the meaning of life and examine what it means to be human, to have free will and faith and hope, using the eyes of the least human among us to do so. It's a mix of historical fiction and Gilded Age myth, Jewish mysticism and Arab folklore, combining elements of Frankenstein and Aladdin in a seamless narrative that's both timeless and modern, insightful yet moving.

I'll admit, I didn't think The Golem and the Jinni would be that book when I first started. Helene Wecker’s writing style leans more toward fairy tale than historical, almost as if there’s a surreal quality that makes her book difficult to place in its nineteenth century setting early on, but, as I would later realize, also lends an idealistic, romantic air to a city and a story that very well needed it. It's fantastical when the story needed to feel exotic, restrained when the tone had to be subdued, but always personal and touching. That said, sadly the first chapter is probably also the weakest, explaining Chava’s origins in that no nonsense, fairy tale way that leaves very little to the imagination, compounded by a story that's slow, very slow, if affectionately crafted.

Yet, as the narrative unfolds, as Chava loses her ‘husband’ to appendicitis and finds herself, alone and masterless, in the urban jungle that is New York City even then, it’s obvious that Wecker quickly turns those weaknesses into elements of strength. Chava, desperately trying to pass as human for her own survival, is taken in by the elderly Rabbi Meyer, and although he’s not unkindly towards the golem, the uncertainty, both for him and for her, of whether she can go against her violent nature hangs in the air. And it’s Chava, created to serve the needs of humans yet trying to understand how to behave like one, who forms half the story. There are deep, profound moments about private thoughts and human nature, and whimsical moments with Chava testing the limits of her body, even eating food and trying to figure out where it goes, and the entire effect is that this wonderfully complex, incredibly compelling character slowly emerges, trying to pass for human out of necessity, yes, but also showing what it means to be one, maybe even a bit about the meaning of existence itself. Needless to say, I celebrated her triumphs, felt for her losses, understood her apprehensions, and hoped for her survival, all as she’s trying to find her way in the world.

The other half of the story is Ahmad, a creature very different from, potentially even the opposite, of Chava. Chava is of the earth; Ahmad is a being of fire. Chava is days old, innocent to the world; Ahmad is centuries old, jaded by his imprisonment. Chava doesn’t understand what it means to be human; Ahmad has the wrong ideas. Yet even before they meet, Wecker has created the perfect foil for the golem, a jinni who’s not less than human, but more, someone as wild and eternal as the desert air bound by flesh and blood, now a fraction of who he was. In contrast to the golem’s uncertainty, his is a restless anxiety that chafes at the limits of human freedom, yet I felt his despair at the constraints of humanity as much as I felt Chava’s fear of the limitlessness of humanity. And in a way, their intertwining stories form a reminder, I think, to the rest of us that, like Chava and Ahmad, we’re all trying to find ourselves between these two extremes.

Lest I forget, there is actually a plot. Chava and Ahmad don’t spend the entire book wandering the streets of New York, discussing the human condition while forming the unlikeliest of friendships, even if I guess my review does give that impression. Sure, a lot of it is about fitting in, being human, some of it a celebration of the immigrant experience through culture, faith, community, even the hope of Lady Liberty followed by the realities of working class New York, but connecting Chava and Ahmad’s story is also one Yehudah Schaalman, evil Kabbalist. The suspense of Schaalman’s machinations adds a bit of urgency to a story that otherwise really doesn’t have any, well beyond flashbacks from Ahmad’s point of view slowly revealing his past while forming parallels with his present, but it’s Schaalman, mostly in the background, ominous and foreboding, who brings Chava and Ahmad’s story ultimately to its conclusion. I’m not entirely satisfied with the (somewhat rushed) ending, particularly with Sophia Winston’s role (though I do see how it mirrors Fadwa’s, a character from Ahmad’s past) and I feel Schaalman as the villain is a weaker aspect of the book than the exploration of human nature, but the epilogue ends on such a bittersweet yet hopeful note I still deeply respect what Helene Wecker has done.

In a word, The Golem and the Jinni is a masterful look at the meaning of life through the eyes of two supernatural beings living in nineteenth century New York. Just by their everyday attempts to understand themselves, Chava and Ahmad, their story, says a lot about all of us.
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
October 9, 2022
This is a very good book. It's a gentle book, concerned with people, spiced by having both of the main point of view characters being supernatural creatures, namely a newly created golem and an ancient jinni. Both of these arrive in turn of the 19th/20th century New York and have to find their feet in the appropriate diaspora (i.e. Jewish and Syrian). The two cultures, as realised within New York at a time when Lady Liberty's arms really were wide open to immigrants, are expertly and accurately drawn (as far as I can tell), and I enjoyed reading about them.

The words that spring to mind when I think of the book are "charming" and "intriguing".

There's no real conflict for most of the book, and no real danger. We are just concerned about the golem and the jinni settling in successfully into their new lives, but it's a fun read and they are engaging characters.

However, a slow burn backstory does develop through the reveal of the jinni's backstory and the continuing machinations of the golem's creator.

When eventually these two threads come together there's a sudden flush of excitement and danger, and I was left looking at the rapidly thinning bundle of remaining pages and wondering how everything could be resolved so quickly.

The ending was clever and exciting, but somehow I was more moved by the build up and felt slightly underwhelmed by the end. Although it was good.

I did wonder

All all in all it's a fine tale and I can see why it has done so well, selling both inside and outside the fantasy readership.

Well worth a read.

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Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
March 2, 2022
Oh man, the book was a little long but it was so worth it. The pacing was excellent and I really enjoyed the unique story line and the way everything comes together in the end. There is nothing better to me than a well executed story line where everything seems to have a purpose and ties into the larger arc of what's happening. Also I really enjoyed the way that Chava and Ahmed's relationship is developed because it never felt like the rest of what was going on every becomes secondary to it which happens in a lot of books. I do appreciate romance novels but it gets tiring to see relationships portrayed in such an idealized way all the time. The idea of their individual identities was so interesting too and the whole dynamic of them trying to figure out to fit in with everyone around them just really appealed to me. I don't think my reviews ever make any sense to anyone because my head is always cluttered right after reading books but if I wait to write reviews I'll never get to doing them honestly. This book is definitely one of my new favorites and I would totally recommend it to anyone that enjoys mystical plots.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 46 books128k followers
December 27, 2013
This is one of my favorite books of the year. I didn't know a ton about it going in, other than the gorgeous cover, and I'm very glad I didn't. It is a historical urban fantasy of sorts, about a Golem and a Djinn separately stranded in turn-of-the-century New York city. The two character's storylines intertwine beautifully, with themes of identity, religion and friendship weaving in and out of a wonderfully detailed world. If you liked The Night Circus, or Dr Strange and Mr. Norrell, you'll really love this book!
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,546 followers
July 16, 2020
Sorry it took me so long to write a review for this one but the past weeks have been hectic and not so fun. I still have little time but if I don’t write a few words now, I’ll never do it.

I added The Golem and The Jinni to my TBR in March 2014, yes, more than 6 years ago. This year I am planning to tackle all books added in February and March 2014 and this is one of them. Until now, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the books that I’ve read from that selection and this one is no exception.

The Plot
Chava is a Golem created by a practitioner of dark magic to serve as a wife for a rich merchant. During the sea voyage towards New York the “husband” dies and the Golem finds herself alone and lost in the big city. During an incident that could have caused a disaster, her nature is recognized by a rabbi who protects and becomes her mentor and guide. Due to her nature Chava can read people’s desires and fears and also possesses great strength that can become destructive. Doubting whether he should save or destroy her, the Rabbi deepens the study on Golems while helping her to blend in.
Ahmad is a Jinni, born on the location of present day Syria more than one thousand years ago. Arbeely, a tinsmith, is brought an old copper flask to repair, one that has been in the client’s family for generations. While he polishes an inscription, he accidentally releases the Jinni, who has no recollection of how he got entrapped in the small object. Ahmad is sheltered by the tinsmith and when the creature of fire proves to be extremely talented with metal manipulation, he also becomes an apprentice in the Tin shop.

Both creatures are faced with a series of challenges, they find living among humans very difficult and they are always at risk for their secret to be revealed. One day, they accidentally meet and immediately understand that they are different beings but united in their uniqueness.

Characters/Writing and other aspects
Since I listened to this book, I spent around a month together with the characters so I got to know them quite well and warm up to them. I thought Ahmad and Chava were well rounded, their strength and weaknesses were balanced, I was sorry for them, I cheered when they were happy and got angry when they did something stupid and hurt someone. The supporting characters were also interesting and diverse. The book was a bit too long, there were some parts that could have been cut but in the same time my relationship with the characters would have been shallower.
The writing was beautiful, perfect for storytelling. I loved how the authors wrote the setting, the sense of place and time felt vibrant and real, even when we were in New York of 1899 or transported in the desert many years in the past. There is magic, action, mystery and glimpses in the life of immigrants relatable to anyone that left their home.

The Audiobook
I believe this book is perfect for narration and George Guidall did a perfect job. He is a very talented narrator and I enjoyed my time spend with him and the beautiful story created by Helene Wecker. He managed to move seamlessly from a female voice to a male one and the pacing was just right.
Profile Image for Isa Lavinia.
604 reviews303 followers
February 19, 2017

This is a truly difficult book to rate, mostly because what faults I can find, I find them in myself as a reader.

The premise of the story in perfect, Chava is a golem created to become the wife of a creepy little man who dies soon after he brings her to life. So now we have Chava, a masterless golem, a creature of clay, newly arrived in turn of the century New York.

Ahmad was trapped in a bottle for over a thousand years by a wizard, and imagine his surprise to find himself in an unheard of continent, when a tinsmith repairing his bottle awakes him from his sleep.

The plot goes on its expected turns, both Chava and Ahmad, similar but so different, go about their lives trying to learn what it is to be human, so they can mask what they truly are.

I have no complaints about the story. I really, really liked it. It kept me reading. There was no point where I went, "I'll take a break from this". I genuinely liked the characters, they were flawed, and yes, they annoyed me often, but that was part of their charm.

So why am I only giving this 3.5 stars instead of 5?
Because I'm a dreadful, greedy reader.
It's true.
It just felt... jarring to have whole chapters about a jinn in a glass and gold filigree palace in the desert, hiding so he can listen to the talks of the men in the caravans, stowing away into human dreams... Or chapters of a golem marvelling at human idiosyncrasies, feeling the call of fresh green growing things... and none of it be poetic at all. Not even remotely beautiful now and then. The language was always so straight-forward! Granted, there is nothing wrong with that, if I go through it, there is nothing wrong I can point about it, it's good, it's practical. It's... not what I wanted.
I've read this whole book and I couldn't find a single quote from it I'd want to share with someone. Oh, I'd recommend the book, but there was nothing in it that just sparked, that made me go, "Oh, that was beautiful."

It is a very entertaining story, but it never feels like storytelling, there is never a sense of wonder reading it, and that's saying something when the two main characters are creatures of myth!

As always, give it a try. It's good! I can tell it's good.
It just isn't for me...
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
September 1, 2019
‘all of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how any people surround us. and then, we meet someone who seems to understand. she smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.’

a woman made of clay and a man made of fire.
she is steadfast and constant, where he is capricious and free spirited.
and yet, they both find themselves thrown into a world not of their choosing, bound by plans greater than themselves.
if you ever needed proof that opposites attract - its this story.

i adore the friendship that grew between these two individuals, who seem to have nothing in common on the surface, but are able to connect in such meaningful ways.

this story is magic with such a quaint feel. the setting of 1899 new york is such a delight. i love the multicultural atmosphere of the different neighbourhoods and variety of characters. i sometimes forgot i was reading a magical realism book because the historical fiction aspect of this novel is just so vibrant.

and yes, the pacing is slow. but it reminds me of the thawing of winter. tedious, and we are sometimes impatient because of it. but when those first signs of spring bloom, we appreciate having to wait. and this story is very much like that.

this is a real hidden treasure of a book.

4 stars
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
April 29, 2021
Reread in April 2021 in preparation for The Hidden Palace - the ARC is sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me, yay!

Returning to this first book after six years, I’m even more impressed with it. Upping my rating to all 5 stars!

This thoughtful, original fantasy is about an unlikely friendship between a golem (an immensely strong animated being magically formed of clay) and a jinni (genie), set mostly in 1899 New York City. Chava, the golem woman, was secretly made by a rabbi using forbidden Kabbalistic magic, to be a wife for another man, bound to obey his every command. When that man dies on the ship to America, she is at loose ends without a master, trying to decide how to live her life. She ends up living for a time with another aged rabbi, who is sympathetic toward her but uneasy with her powers of destruction.

The jinni, Ahmad, is also on the loose in New York City after a tinsmith accidentally lets him loose from the bottle that imprisoned him. But Ahmad still doesn't have all of his powers — he's involuntarily tied to a human shape, without the ability to change or become incorporeal, and he’s lost a chunk of his memories. And he very much wants his full powers back. The golem and the jinni form a tenuous friendship, despite their vast differences in their natures — earth and fire — and in their personalities and views.

I loved this book's detailed exploration of historic New York City and the lives of immigrants (especially Jewish and Syrian people) and others (a brief glimpse of the constrained life of an upper class, wealthy young woman) at the turn of the twentieth century. The pacing, for the most part, is very deliberate, even slow at times — you have to just enjoy the journey. But once the conflict really kicks in, it's pretty intense.

Very highly recommended if you like well-written historic fiction with an element of fantasy, that thoughtfully explores some deeper themes about our innate natures, our choices and desires.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,104 followers
February 10, 2017
I'm really quite amazed at the things this novel does right. It's a detailed and grand scaled historical romance as well as being a delightful hop in magical realism, but I couldn't help make direct connections to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

But not because many of the ideas are the same. They aren't. What is the same is the length and the attention to historicism and the depth of the real history and especially the depth of the magic. The length of the novel and beautiful prose also has a lot to do with it, as well.

It's basically an immigrant story that becomes an empowerment story with a strong thread of very understated romance. The large set of characters never overwhelms the main two. The woman of Earth and the man of Fire are both magical creatures that find their way at the turn of the last century's New York City. It's really quite delightful.

She was created out of clay and designed with intelligence and curiosity, but she was also designed to be subservient and modest... with an evil strain built in to all golems that make them wish to utterly destroy their creators once they get a taste for blood. He was a wild spirit of fire before he was enslaved and was forced to live in stasis for a thousand years until luck would have him freed... and at loose ends in cold winters that he is unable to escape from.

How beautiful is that? It sounds like the setup for a grand romance. But it isn't. Not really. Theirs is a relationship based on trust and deep friendship, and even when that trust is broken, they forgive and return to each other.

There's even an evil wizard that returns through each life with not just a complicated background but also a complicated inner life. I can't quite call him irredeemable. He does good and and makes beauty. He made the golem, after all. But his nature leads him down very dark pathways, too.

So was this a character novel or a plot-driven one? Both. And wonderfully so. I got engrossed in everything. The journey was a pure delight. :)

I totally recommend for anyone who wants a classy and gorgeous historical romance full of deep magic and iconic archetypal characters that are beautifully drawn. :)
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
April 28, 2018
This is the story of a golem and a jinni, how they discover who they are, their strengths, their weaknesses, and how, even though they're composed of completely different elements, they may just be the best friend for each other in a human world where they will never truly belong.

As I was reading The Golem and the Jinni, enjoying their adventures and waiting to see how they would discover their origins, I didn't consider for a moment the idea that the tale could be a metaphor for something else.

When I read the Q&A with the author at the end of the book, I was really kicking myself. Of course, it made total sense as a metaphor for cultural differences. And, when I thought about it that way, I liked the story even more.

On the other hand, this tale can be completely enjoyed and interpreted as a historical fiction/fairytale and, if you're not in the mood to think any deeper than that, it doesn't matter, because it's still awesome. So, it's a win/win book for the deep thinkers and the no-thinkers.

The Golem and the Jinni is not a fast read. Wecker really builds the characters and gives the back story for everybody who comes across the page.

At first I was like, "Do we really need to know the ice cream guy's life story?" and I was getting frustrated with the pacing of it. But, as her characters came together and their lives began to intertwine, I began to appreciate the true artistry of the novel.

It is like an orchestral fugue in which the instruments play their themes one by one at the beginning, which is beautiful, but when the tones combine, it lifts the piece to a whole other place. That is The Golem and the Jinni. Give it the time and space to build the characters and you will be blown away by the ending. At least, I was.

Wecker has a talent for creating multi-layered characters. Though the golem is only a few hours old, the author manages to instill in her a childlike curiosity mixed with the timelessness of a magical creature.

In this passage, the golem is seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time: "The deck was crowded with people, and at first the Golem didn't see what they were waving at. But then, there she was: a gray-green woman standing in the middle of the water, holding a tablet and bearing aloft a torch. Her gaze was unblinking, and she stood so still: was it another golem? ... And those on deck were waving and shouting at her with jubilation, crying even as they smiled. This, too, the Golem thought, was a constructed woman. Whatever she meant to the others, she was loved and respected for it. For the first time... the Golem felt something like hope. pg 17 ebook.

She also describes scenes just beautifully. In this passage, the Jinni sees New York harbor: "The Jinni leaned against the railing, transfixed by the view. He was a creature of the desert, and never in his life had he come so close to this much water. It lapped at the stone below his feet, reaching now higher, now lower. Muted colors floated on its surface, and afternoon sunlight reflecting in the ever-changing dips of the waves. Still it was hard to believe that this was not some expert illusion, intended to befuddle him. At any moment he expected the city and water to dissolve, to be replaced by the familiar steppes and plateaus of the Syrian Desert, his home for close to two hundred years." pg 23 ebook

I loved the little, let's call them "wisdom nuggets," that Wecker sprinkled throughout the story. Like: "A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts." pg 40 ebook. Or: "Men need no reason to cause mischief, only an excuse!" pg 172 ebook.

I also connected with this passage where the Jinni is thinking about the power of names: "To him the new name suggested that the changes he'd undergone were so drastic, so pervasive, that he was no longer the same being at all. He tried not to dwell on such dark thoughts, and instead concentrated on speaking politely, and maintaining his story- but every so often, as he listened to the chatter of yet more visitors, he spoke his true name to himself in the back of his mind, and took comfort in the sound." pg 68 ebook.

I recommend The Golem and the Jinni for folks who enjoy historical fiction blended with fantasy, folks who love deep characters, and for anyone who loves to read beautiful prose. This book has all of that.
Profile Image for Dear Faye.
492 reviews2,125 followers
June 4, 2014
How could I possibly review this in the most coherent way?

This book, a debut at that, is one of the best I've read this year. No, scratch that, it's THE best I've read in a long time, easily knocking over the ones I've gushed in the past few weeks to nothing. After turning the last page, I just knew it would be among my all-time favorites, together with A Monster Calls, Written in Red, and Blood Song. I've never felt this hypnotized, amazed, and captivated; the level of mesmerization is just so up there that after reading this book, I doubt I can find any more that would be able to set the bar even higher. Be careful, books! Thanks to The Golem and the Jinni, you'll be finding yourselves continuously compared to this stunning, hard-to-beat literary masterpiece.

A book that encompasses vast lands and centuries of loneliness and solitude, it is told in the perspectives of a dynamic cast of characters, with their own stories to tell, fears to hide, and desires to pursue, but it is told mainly in the eyes of Chava, a golem that was made to follow a master but unfortunately found herself having no one to guide her, and Ahmad, a jinni, who in a malicious twist of fate and unwanted circumstances, was trapped by a wizard hundreds of years past and now tied to a world he does not know. Two individuals with contrasting natures stuck in an environment they do not fully understand, I found them to be the book's strongest points, as their innocence and rashness were very endearing to read; every time they would wonder about human society — why do we have religion? Why do we hold out our desires and say what we deem is socially appropriate? Why is there a need for marriage and all sorts of rituals? — I end up pausing for a few minutes wondering about it, too, and the fact that it's being pondered on by an outside perspective, a magical being not of our nature, made it all the more thought-provoking. What's the meaning of life? What does it mean to really live? Are we really living or merely existing? Are we content with the monotony and constant routine of our daily lives, when we are capable of doing so much more? I loved how the book asked all these questions about human life and ethics from the point of view of a magical being, a creature not human, but more human than many of us.

Couple that with the beautiful narrative, it just makes the experience all the more bewitching and engaging. Wecker has this unique and spectacular way of making things so familiar to us — the buzzing of the city, the chattering of neighbors, the baking of bread, and everything else — become so big, and new, and exciting. The book does take on a slow pace. A lot of things and activities that we usually find mundane and boring were described constantly, but Wecker, being the awesome writer that she is, gave the book an atmosphere that was magical and surreal at the same time that these activities just became a part of the book's charm. The writing is just so beautiful, the prose sublime, the descriptions enchanting, that you just fall in love with all of its aspects. I'm sure some of you are probably thinking I'm giving it way too much credit, but I shit you not when I say that the author's writing prowess is the best I've ever encountered.

The plot is very slow. It unfolds itself in a snail-like pace, making you know the characters first, their place in the grander scheme of things, and their role in the overall story, revealing itself little by little in the background. It has a really interesting storyline that spans centuries of years to the present, a tale of maliciousness, consequences, revenge, and love. Because I believed the characters were the strongest points of the book, I thought the storyline, while good, was only secondary, but it was still very enjoyable and suspenseful nonetheless (especially when you have a creepy old man stalking you on his quest to find the key to immortality!). It has a very satisfying ending, with a romance that steadily gained momentum in the end, giving me a giddy, sheepish smile and a warm feeling tingling in my spine as I turned the last page, knowing deep in my heart that the two magical beings will find closure and happiness in the physical world.

All in all, these are what I have to say: engaging story, check; nicely thought-out three-dimensional well-rounded characters, check; beautiful writing, check; surreal, magical atmosphere giving the book an overall romantic air, check; wonderful world-building, check! This is a stunning debut, a book that deserves a place in all our shelves, because it's that good. You cannot miss this one out, folks!

Final verdict: 5 STARS!!!
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,124 followers
February 23, 2014
Huh. Well, this was deeply... okay. Wecker set up an interesting and fairly straightforward concept: Two supernatural beings in the turn of the century New York, trying to make their way in the New World, an exaggerated metaphor for the immigrant experience and the human condition. Fair enough. And there was some lovely atmospheric writing at the start that both helped to build the historical world and the supernatural feeling while she built her world and info-dumped all the information we needed to know about the characters. It took a bit too long and there was some rushed telling rather than showing just to get through to the actual story part, but I largely didn't mind. The backstories were interesting enough.

I also quite enjoyed the jinni's initial adventures in New York, the people he meets and especially his relationship with Sophia. His attitude towards his existence was quite sympathetic and I couldn't wait to see what he would do next. The Golem's situation aroused my pity and I liked some of the parallels to women's situations that were drawn as well as the immigrant experience. Her

Eventually the two characters meet- which just seems inevitable. I enjoyed their first explorations and walks with each other.

However, then the book seemed to feel some obligation to fall into the structure and expectations of a romance novel. The man is infuriating, the lady isn't even that attractive so why do I like her so much, they piss each other off and fight but have such a strong bond!

I lost interest in the book when what happened. I thought Wecker had many more interesting things going on in the book than she gave herself credit for if she thought that that was the best thing to capture her readers' interest. I would rather have spent more time with Sophia, or had a romance between the jinni and Sophia continue if we really needed to go the romance route. I would rather have seen what the Golem would have done truly on her own with no master to speak of- fighting her conditioning (like a lot of women had to do then) to be truly independent. I wanted to see the jinni go out west and explore the world- yes he is long lived, but finite- so he could have had a really long bucket list we could have explored a little. I would have even accepted them as a buddy comedy type thing on a permanent road trip. But why oh why did we need the romance formula? The book flattened out and became predictable and lost so many possibilities when that happened.

A side note: The musings on human condition through the supernatural being discovering how to be human/having it explained to them is a pretty well-worn device. So some of the "realizations" also needed to be a little less cliched and clunky. I would much rather have seen the Golem find herself in situations she had to work out rather than sitting down and "thinking" through the parellels the author wanted to tell me about.

But it was still okay. I still like the ideas. I still liked the beginning. There were some interesting secondary characters. Just took the Road More Traveled in the end, which took this from "solid" to "meh".
Profile Image for Debbie W..
763 reviews570 followers
October 16, 2021
This was a story that I couldn't wait to get back to, especially when "life" called me away from it. I was riveted right from the start!

An intriguing story of a friendship, a love story, unlike any other, intertwining Jewish and Arabic folkloric beliefs. I loved how the stories of the Golem and the Jinni, two mystical creatures, were parallel in nature and how they interacted once they met. For a debut novel, I was impressed with the maturity level of the plot and character developments. I was so invested in what happened to all of the characters, right up to the end, which I did not see coming.

George Guidall, the narrator of this audiobook, was impressive. His delivery was slow and deliberate, but very pleasant, and his voice changes for gender, cultures and ages were spot on. I'm not typically a fan of the fantasy genre, but when a good book comes along, like this one, I'm in! I had to purchase a print copy for my book collection! Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,539 followers
September 7, 2016
A wonderful tale I hated to put down, couldn’t wait to resume whenever I did, and felt sad when it was over. A great blend of fantasy and historical fiction that explores what it means to be human amid the multicultural blend of immigrants trying to achieve their dreams in New York City at the end of the 19th century.

We follow the lives of two mythic creatures trying to pass as human, living parallel lives and slowly drawn into a common path. Chava appears as a woman and was recently made as a Golem from clay by a Jewish wizard to be the wife/slave of a Prussian, whose death on the ship from Europe leavers her masterless. She was made to be obedient, intelligent, curious, and faithful, with an ability to read and urge to serve people’s needs, and the strength of six men. The Jinni (“Genie”) is creature with the essence of fire and the powers to assume many forms and to enter people’s dreams and in some senses “possess” them. Released by accident from an ancient flask by a tinsmith in the Little Syria part of the city, Ahmad has no memory how he got there and is trapped in human form by the magic of an iron bracelet.

For many I am sure this scenario sounds pretty silly. But Wecker’s brilliant storytelling quickly engages you with complete empathy in the fate of these two characters. Like other immigrants they have to figure out how to survive through regular jobs and to make friends in this society. Discovery and violent response to them as monsters is a big danger. For Chava, a special risk lies in going amok in defense of threats to herself or her friends. For Ahmad, his propensity toward seducing young women gets him in trouble a lot. For both, the biggest threat comes in the form of Chava’s powerful creator, who comes to America caring only about finding the secret of eternal life. That neither Chava or Ahmad sleeps drives them to walk a lot at night, which is how they discover each other and become friends. Their clandestine explorations of the wonders of the city is a particularly captivating part of the story.
Washington Square Park, a favorite spot for our characters

Mulberry Street

There are elements of parable and allegory in the plot, and frequent dwelling of the characters on free will and fate and on creation and death. But these aspects don't burden the story. Instead, it feels more like the delightful sleight-of-hand approach of Isaac B. Singer than the more heavy handed, self-conscious creations of Coehlo. I also appreciated the restraint in not portraying marvels as confections of imagination, i.e. that sense of cotton candy I got from “The Night Circus.” The only reason I don’t render 5 stars for this supremely fun ride is that it didn’t quite make me laugh or cry. Also, despite writing that that carried the story well, no passage stimulated me to write it down as a condensation of a special truth.

I was stimulated to read this by the fine reviews of Will Byrnes and Susan Tunis.

Helene Wecker, her first novel

Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,008 followers
August 9, 2016
"And if she was meant to be curious, did that mean she could take no credit for her own discoveries, her accomplishments? Had she nothing of her own, only what Joseph Schall decreed she should have?"

This is a book that works its magic in silence. You don't expect it to be what it is, to give you what it gives you. This is a subtle book; a book that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and that, for all that it gives, expects something in return. The breath that more than once you couldn't catch? It's because it catched it before you. All the times you felt swept off your feet? Here you have the thief of your balance. All the times you were so engrossed and lost and caught up in this story that you could not think, could not even remember your name? Yes. Its fault.

•Rarely have I encountered a more mesmerising, beguiling story. And it is not about the plot; the role the plot has in all this is but minimal. It is about perception, about the atmosphere, about all those little things that are only hinted, implied, unspoken, and that yet form the truest framework of any story worth its salt. If you are planning to read this book, please do so as I did: in the dark. Don't spoil yourself the littlest detail, not even the characters' names. I promise the journey will be a thousand times more impressive and astounding.

•The characters are each one of them more compelling and developed than the other. No room left for clichés nor banalities. Each one of them has his own motives, which makes them all the more believable and relatable, and each one of them is so skillfully fleshed-out it was as if all they needed to come to life was me to blow on the page to let them out. Moreover, the way their lives become more and more intertwined as the story goes on reminded me of a choral novel, even though the number of characters is not nearly as high. But I adore choral novels, and for this reason I soaked up the magnificence of this book twice as gladly.

"All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand."

•The themes: this book deals with many issues, primarly concerning diversity and ethnic differences. And I am not able to exactly put my finger on why it happened, but it won me over. The author managed this topic in such a professional and honest and sensible way that I was defenseless. This is how you craft a fabulous background for a fabulous story.

•What is more, this is one of those cases in which the writing perfectly complements the story. The style is neat, clean, pure. The only word that comes to my mind is perfection. Sheer perfection.

➽ Basically, there is nothing in this book that I did not adore to pieces. I am sorry if my total lack of complaints (knowing me, complaints are probably what you would expect; I know, it's sad) sounds too good to be true, but trust me, please, trust me: this book is a jewel. I recommend it to everyone and anyone, wholeheartedly, no regrets whatsoever. Read it. Buy it and read it. And don't do it for me, do it for you. The world, later, will taste different.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,530 reviews978 followers
February 7, 2021
Despite the obvious suggestion from the title and despite the supernatural nature of the main characters, for me this is not a novel about a golem and a jinni. It is the story of two ordinary people, immigrants like millions others coming to New York in the year 1899, there to learn how to deal with being uprooted from their birth lands, with being alone and lost in an alien culture, with how to slowly emerge from their hard protective shells and how to rely on each other. Maybe even to learn how to fall in love with each other in a circumspect, tentative manner.

Then again, the two immigrants are special people: a golem and a jinni emerging right out of the clay or the magic lamp all fairytales taught us to expect. Their background stories include all the paraphernalia of traits and supernatural powers and ethnic inheritance of their original cultures. So strong was the characterization and their individuality though, that for me they read like real people rather than impossible creatures from a fantasy realm.

Chava and Ahmed are the new names they receive on arrival in the New World, gifts from benefactors who fortuitously come to ease the cultural shock of suddenly losing all the roots to the old home lands. For Chava, the angel of mercy is an elderly rabbi from the Jewish Quarter, for Ahmad a metalworker in the Little Syria neighborhood. The first reaction of the two outsiders is to hide, to remain unnoticed, to blend into the background and to avoid using their special talents lest some angry mob turns against them in a repetition of past pogroms against their kind. The novel can be interpreted then as the account of their shedding of the ingrained fear, coming out of the shell and beginning to explore both the geography of the city and the new opportunities this new world promises to all lost souls. (I should insert here something about the Statue of Liberty and its inscription, but I'm too lazy to look it up). Anyway, that's one of the reasons I judged the novel anchored in historical reality rather than fantasy.

The second reason being the wonderful job Helene Wecker did in bringing to life the almost tribal neighborhood life of turn of the century New York, where newcomers still gathered together in ethnic based communities, many of them still speaking only their native language and keeping strict adherence to ancestral customs. The Jewish and the Syrian communities receive the lion's share of attention from the author, and the thoroughness of the research is impressive, easily letting me enjoy what could be considered the slower portions of the novel, focused on descriptions and secondary characters. The novel feels indeed longer than usual for a fashionable supernatural romance, but the attention to detail gives it authenticity and makes it an immersive experience.

- Are you always this humorless?
- Yes. Are you always this exasperating?

Back to the real heroes of the story. They are nothing like each other, one being timid, serious, subservient, altruistic while the other is impetuous, proud, selfish, adventurous and extremely amoral. Earth and Fire! Typical romance stuff, you might say. Both are also prisoners not only of their born natures, but literally compelled to serve without question the orders of strangers. Chava was created from the start as a slave to her master's wishes, easily controlled through mystic incantations. Ahmad has been captured centuries ago, imprisoned in a copper lamp and bound to this plane of existence with an iron manacle by a powerful desert magician. Complicating the issue are Ahmad's very short fuse of his anger and Chava's awareness that golems are mentally unstable and pone to fits of murderous rage. Can they escape their traps and finally enjoy what normal people take for granted? Namely free will.

The quest for free expression and the pursuit of happiness, coupled with the fight against their respective creators / magicians provides the action part of the plot, which gains steam rather late, as the novel reaches the final chapters. But let's not forget that this is also a romance story. So readers can also look forward to finding an answer to the question of the chances love has to bloom between two incompatible personalities.

Before I finish I want to add some more words of praise for the talent of this debut author in creating compelling storylines and believable characters, as evidenced in the rich tapestry woven by the supporting cast, ranging from the already mentioned rabbi Meyer and metalsmith Arbeely, and continuing with Michael - a young Jewish social worker whose socialist politics are of a practical nature; Anna - a young bakery girl with bad luck in boyfriends; a rich heiress from the posh part of town; a taciturn Syrian boy with an agile mind; a former doctor possessed by malignant spirits (efriits) who sells ice-cream to kids on the street; the gossiping matron of an ethnic restaurant, and so on. Together they contribute to the big picture of a New York city that was still in 1899 the promised land for countless impoverished and persecuted people from the Old World. Outside New York and in a different timeline, the best story arc describes the nomadic life of Bedouin tribes, unchanged though millenia, and the tribulations of a young shepherd girl who attracts the attention of the amoral jinni.

In conclusion, The Golem and The Jinni deserves all the votes in last year's popularity vote on Goodreads, and I hope the story will one day be filmed, as I believe it will translate well to the silver screen. And I will be on the lookout for the next book from Helene Wecker.
Profile Image for Bentley ★ Bookbastion.net.
242 reviews559 followers
October 19, 2017
See this review and more like it on www.bookbastion.net!

“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how any people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.”

This book has been one of those ones that hung out on my TBR list far longer than it should.

I would catch a glimpse of this book in bookstores and debate picking up a copy, only to pass over it when another book caught my eye. I bought it on my kindle one day, in the hopes that this would force me to prioritize it, and then I discovered Netgalley. 20 ARCs later, I was cycling through my backlog of books I'd not yet read and owned, and this book was fairy screaming at me to give it a chance.

Thankfully, I listened to my heart this time and gave it a go, because I truly loved this book.

The characters are so memorable and vividly and diverse, and the story was a crowning achievement of love and life and the celebration of cultural differences that pleasantly surprised me. We have to talk about the scope and breadth of the writing though because I think as a reader a little preparation before going into this is important.

This is a dense book.

Clocking in at 657 pages (depending on which edition you get it may be a little more, or a little less) this was not quite the longest book I'd read this year but in terms of the scope of where the prose goes, it's certainly one of the most ambitious.

Wecker was made to write Historical fiction.

With a keen eye for the details, she paints the late 1800s in New York city in wonderfully vivid and culturally sensitive strokes. I loved the way she delved into the different neighborhoods and communities living side by side in the city and the way they differed from each other. The story does roam outside the city as well, and each of the other settings that are visited, however briefly, are treated with that same reverence that had me constantly admiring how much work must have gone into this novel.

That being said, there were times that the depth of certain aspects in the story seemed to hinder plot movement.

In her attempt to build a living, breathing world full of true-to-life characters, Wecker often stalls the narrative flow to swap POVs - sometimes within the same chapter - to fully flesh out an ancillary character that comes into contact with the Golem or the Jinni in their movements about the city. At first, I really enjoyed this because it allows the story to really dive into those cultural differences and does help ground things in the reality of the time the story is set in.

That being said, I quickly reached a point that I began to wonder why we were getting these interludes with all these characters. They are innumerable and constant and there were many points that I found myself just wanting to get back to the main plot so we could see what was going to happen next. In one of my status updates, I described the prose as beautiful, but also long-winded, which I think remained true by the end. While many of those characters end up becoming more important as the story moves on, I can't help but feel like this book could have been 100 or so pages shorter and nothing of merit would have been lost.

This I could have completely forgiven if I felt that at the end every single character's inclusion and development ended up contributing something of meaning to the end of the story. Unfortunately, there were 1 or 2 characters that I can think of off the top of my head that I expected more to happen with that just seem to be dropped by the end of the book. One of them in particular seemed a real shame, as her subplot was probably the most compelling of all the lesser characters but her entire dilemma seemed to be hand-waved away in only a line or two, leaving me feeling a bit deflated.

But that complaint is minor and I must reiterate, the pros outweigh the cons here.

In terms of the development of both the primary antagonists (the titular Golem and Jinni) and their adversary antagonist alone, this novel is leaps and bounds ahead of many others I've read this year.

The villain in this book has to be one of the most memorable I have read in years. It takes him quite awhile to show up (roughly 65% of the book before it becomes clear who it is) but when it does I couldn't stop turning pages to find out what was going to happen next, it's that compelling.

For fans of historical fiction and magical realism, you absolutely must put this on your list. Be advised that while the first half is a bit of a slow burn, the latter half is certainly faster moving and well worth the effort and attention required to make it there. I could actually see this movie being adapted in to film quite well in the right director's hands. I think there's a wonderful story here that would translate to the screen beautifully. I hope it gets the opportunity one day, if only because it would help the story reach a larger audience.

I'm very glad I stuck with this and am actually going to seek out a physical copy for my home library - that's how much I enjoyed it.

★★★★ = 4/5 stars
Profile Image for Celeste.
933 reviews2,384 followers
July 31, 2018
Full review now posted!

Actual rating: 4.5 stars

Wecker crafted one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time in The Golem and the Jinni, and I’m so glad that I finally took time to read it.

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for four years. You read that right. Four. YEARS. I’m ashamed, I tell you. I bought it because it was cheap and the cover was pretty and I promptly returned to my regular reading. The premise sounded interesting, it really did, but it was just strange enough for me to keep putting it off and eventually forgetting about it all together. Thankfully, my lovely friend Mary mentioned it and told me she thought I would love it, so I dusted it off and gave it a try.

I was immediately engrossed. The Golem and the Jinni both find themselves in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. We get to see a good deal of the city as it would have been in the late 1890s through the eyes of two radically different entities. The Golem finds herself alone in New York, a helpmate created for a man who was gone before she had even lived a day. She was crafted for a much different person than most golems, and must learn to navigate her fledgling life without the guidance of a master. The Golem is sweet, honest, caring, hardworking, and innocent. Seeing the world through her eyes was a delight.

The Jinni awakens trapped in human form with no memory for the past thousand years. He’s brash and selfish, but he’s beautiful and talented and can create astounding artwork from metals. He burns brightly, drawing others to him like moths to flame, but his brightness also repels. There is this vibrant overabundance of life within him that discomforts others.

The Golem and the Jinni frequent radically different parts of the city. The Golem stays near the Jewish neighborhood, drawn to the familiarity of the religion that crafted her. The Jinni awakened in Little Syria, and there he mostly stays. Both of these neighborhoods were lovely to experience through the eyes of our main characters. Each area was rich in heritage and life, and seeing how radically the neighborhoods within New York City differed during this time period was fascinating. I also love how beliefs and heritage infused every aspect of life for people in these neighborhoods.

So, if the Golem and the Jinni live in very different microcosms in New York, how do they meet? Well, you see, besides being mythological creatures, the two share in common something that is both a gift and a curse: they don't need sleep. While that's a great way to not have to waste around a third of your day, it's also lonely and boring. The two meet one night while prowling the streets of their slumbering city, and an unlikely friendship is formed.

The mythos behind each of our main characters was probably my favorite part of the book. I’m a sucker for mythology, but both Kabbalistic and Arabian mythology are lesser known for me. I very much enjoyed learning more about them. I was especially fascinated by Kabbalah, as its roots are also the roots of my own faith.

Wecker’s prose was absolutely lovely. There was a beautiful, easy flow to her words that I appreciated immensely. Nothing ever felt forced, in my opinion. This is one of those books that makes you think more deeply and feel more intelligent just by cracking it open, but in a way that never feels condescending, if that makes sense. I love literary fiction, but it does on occasion feel as if it’s talking down to you. Not so with this book! It definitely felt like literary fiction, but effortlessly so. And I’m not sure if I would call this historical fantasy or magical realism, because it bridges the two very well. I think it’s a book that is book genre defying and genre defining, in a sense. Also, there was something about the writing and the story that just felt so romantic. Not because of a romantic element, but because of how the time period, subject matter and writing mingled together to form this lovely picture in the minds of readers. My only complaint about this book is that the ending felt just a bit rushed compared to the pacing of the rest of the book. However, I thought Wecker ended things very well, and I felt satisfied by the ending.

If you’re a fan of historical fantasy, literary fiction, magical realism, or just really good stories written really well, I heartily recommend this book. It would also be a fabulous book club option, as there is a plethora of topics to discuss.

Original review can be found at Booknest.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews296 followers
July 21, 2016

I first heard about this book recently when a friend read it and said he was very impressed with it - he said it was much better than what he was expecting. Then it kept popping up in a couple of groups I'm in, and between everyone seeming to be well impressed with it, and it seeming to be a sort of thing I would like, being a fan of historical fantasy in general, and various cultural mythos in particular, I figured I'd give it a go.

So I'm a bit sad to say that I wasn't really all that wowed with it.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's not a bad book or anything, and maybe it's just a case of disappointed expectations, but I felt kinda meh about it for much of the time, and now, writing about it a few days later, I can't say it really left all that much of an impression. (I even kept forgetting I had to write this review.)

I think my biggest sticking point was that this is a very character oriented story, but I never really connected with the characters. I was interesting in the idea of a golem and a jinni being thrust into our world in their varying circumstances - an idea which reminded me a bit of American Gods - but neither this story's characters or prose engaged me in the way AG did.

It's hard to plod through a slow-moving, character-based book where not much happens for the first 1/2, or even 3/4, when you don't really care all that much about the characters outside of a vague, almost academic, interest.

I also wish there was more of the cultures being portrayed in the book. I never really felt the time period, nor did I feel really immersed in either the Jewish or Arab communities in which the creatures lived in. Considering how much time is spent slowly developing the characters and all, I would just think that some of that would come across more.

The speed did pick up a lot towards the end, when a lot of stuff started happening - but I'm not sure I was really thrilled with how some stuff played out. The reveal felt sort of... I don't know if cliched is really the right word... maybe forced? I mean, the fact that There were a lot of coincidences throughout the book, but that one just sort of tipped things a bit more to the negative for me.

Also, I wasn't all that happy with the end confrontation. I would've preferred something along the lines of how

Ultimately, I was much more pleased with Ahmad's development and growth through the story. He, at least, had some...

Though I suppose that's part of the point - some people, mythological or otherwise, are more bound by their natures than others. But I still can't say it left me with positive feelings regarding the book.

Once again, however, I am in the vast minority, and I certainly can't say that there aren't good and interesting things about the book - it just didn't leave me feeling very satisfied, and I very much wish that I could say otherwise.

*le sigh*
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
November 7, 2016
I really enjoyed this novel that blended historical fiction with some fantasy. It's the story of a young woman made of clay (the golem), and a male genie who had been trapped in a copper flask for centuries (the jinni).

But really, this is the story of immigrants in America. The book is set in New York in 1899, and we see how difficult it was to be a "stranger in a strange land." The golem came to life because a businessman wanted a wife he could control, and the jinni was accidentally released by a tinsmith who was repairing the flask. Both the golem and the jinni are able to make human friends to help them try to assimilate to life in America, but they both feel like they don't really belong, and they have different views on how much free will they should have. The story slowly builds, and things become tense when we learn a dangerous wizard is hoping to capture the jinni.

My favorite character in the book was the rabbi who helped the golem. The rabbi's kindness and wisdom were comforting, and I liked how he tried to plan for the golem's future. Similarly, his nephew, Michael, was another beloved character who got caught up in a story he didn't expect.

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I'm glad I gave this book my time. It was thoughtful, well-written, and I enjoyed the various plot lines. I listened to this on audio, which I highly recommend because of the marvelous narrator.

After I finished this book, I looked up the author and learned she's working on a sequel. Hooray!

Favorite Quotes
"All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how any people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears."

"A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts."

"Faith is believing in something even without proof, because you know it in your heart to be true."

"If the act of love is so dangerous, why do people risk so much for it?"
Profile Image for Aisha.
69 reviews33 followers
December 4, 2013
I'd have given this four stars if I'd enjoyed this book more. Don't get me wrong, it's is very, very well and richly written. The pacing was just a bit slower than I was expecting (though necessarily so for the meandering story being woven together). I wasn't quite satisfied with the ending - somethings were tied up too neatly, other things left too open-ended for my tastes - but this was a failing on my part and not the book's.

EDIT: Actually, after a lot of thought, I'm bumping this down to a two star rating. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were elements that just did not work in this book and that was no failing on my part as a reader. Like, there was actually not point to the character of Sophia. I imagined how the story would go without her being there and realized there would be no great loss. Another thing that struck me as ridiculous was . It seemed like a last-minute, desperate grab by the author to throw extra drama into the novel. Also,

This novel had a lot of good elements, but there was also a lot wrong with it when it came to the third act of the novel. And that's really very unfortunate for something that had so much potential.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books349 followers
August 11, 2013
If you claim you like fantasy but you don't like this book, then what you like is silly wizards and hot werewolf-on-chick action, or else secondary world fantasy with elves and dragons and lost swords and shit, which is all well and good but I'm gonna be totally judgmental about any so-called fantasy fan who doesn't like this book because it's "too long" or too "slow-moving" or whatever stupid reason it failed to score with you. The Golem and the Jinni is a carefully constructed modern fable written as seriously as any historical literary fiction. The main characters, two creatures right out of Jewish and Arabic myth, blend perfectly into this novel of early 20th century New York. What is more fantastic than that?

It's a rich book, reading at times like one of those sweeping classic character epics like Middlemarch or Les Miserables (but not as wordy and with far less infodumping). There are a fairly large number of characters, each with a character arc that runs the length of the book, eventually tying into the resolution.

We start in 1899 in Poland with an unpleasant fellow who has been successful in business but due to being a poorly socialized schmuck, unsuccessful in matrimony. Rather than figuring out how to woo the ladies properly, he gets the bright idea to go to a local rabbi rumored to know dark Kabbalistic magic, and asks him to make him a wife.

Helene Wecker does a wonderful job of describing just the sort of loser who'd buy a RealDoll. Since this is 1899, he buys a golem instead.

Unlike RealDolls, golems can walk, talk, and think. They have their own personalities and desires — a fact upon which much of what follows hinges, as the golem's master-to-be specifies "curiosity" along with "modesty" and "obedience" for his clay bride.

Unfortunately, there is also another little detail from Jewish legends that Helene Wecker weaves skillfully into the story: deep down, golems are murderous creatures who will eventually turn on their masters and have to be destroyed.

Golem legends were of course the precursor to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Chava is not nearly so tragic — she awakens in the hold of a ship (her "husband" couldn't wait), but when her "husband" dies, she finds herself alone in New York City — obedient, modest, and curious. She knows what she is, but not what to do with herself. She is constructed such that she can pass as a human, so she manages, awkwardly, to integrate herself into New York's Jewish immigrant community, finding that her tirelessness and precision makes her very good at useful skills like baking and sewing.

Meanwhile, in the Syrian immigrant community, a tinsmith named Boutros Arbeely is brought an old copper flask to repair. He manages to open it and release a jinni who's been trapped in the flask for a thousand years. "Ahmad," as he calls himself, has a very different personality than Chava. He is a creature of fire and caprice, bound to a human form. He's not evil or cruel, but he's used to doing what he pleases without worrying about consequences. His jinni powers make him an able assistant to Boutros Arbeely, but the mundanity of life among humans is soon driving him mad.

Eventually, by chance, the golem and the jinni meet. They are both the ultimate foreigners in a sea of immigrants. Despite being from different worlds, they understand each other better than even the few humans who know their natures can. Their friendship is perfect, awkward, believable, and of course, it gets sorely tested.

As a fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni succeeds because it makes golems and jinni fit in a perfectly believable fashion into the tapestry of early 20th century life. It's not a "secret wizarding world" setting — it's just a world where some of those old legends might actually be true. There aren't vampires and faeries and wizards everywhere, but here and there, if you look for it, there's a bit of magic. The magic isn't the point, though it's much more than just an incidental background detail. The natures of the golem and the jinni and the magic that forms them play critical roles in the climax, but this is a character-driven novel. Chava and Ahmad are both great protagonists. Chava is wise and kind and well-intentioned, but she's not a perfect helpmate — she becomes frustrated and bored with people, and deep in her heart is that murderous golem nature she's not yet even aware of. Ahmad is kind of a jerk — he likes building pretty things, seducing mortal women, and then moving on — but forced to live on the ground among mankind, he's also forced to confront their reactions to his actions. He's still impatient, petty, and arrogant, but he's not without scruples or compassion.

The secondary characters fill in the edges of the story. "Ice Cream Saleh," a one-time learned physician possessed by an evil spirit, cursed to never look another person in the face until he sees a man of flame on the streets of New York City. The kindly Rabbi Meyer, who recognizes Chava for what she is, and his nephew Michael, an apostate Jew who runs a shelter for new immigrants and falls in love with Chava, having no idea what she is. There are many other characters whose stories intersect Chava's and Ahmad's, ending with a confrontation with Chava's creator, who has a connection to the events Ahmad has forgotten that sealed him in his flask a thousand years ago.

This is Helene Wecker's debut novel, but I would never have thought it was a first novel. And unlike so many debut fantasy novels, it's entirely self-contained. Wecker probably could write a sequel, but I think rather than simply continuing the story of Chava and Ahmad, she'd do much better to write another book like this but with a completely different setting and characters. I will definitely read it!

This is the sort of thick, juicy fantasy that should appeal to all fans of thick juicy fantasies and historical fiction alike. Rich in characters and setting details, judicious about using magic as a plot device, not a character, a mystical force that doesn't need to be meticulously systemitized to make sense. The Golem and the Jinni is literary fantasy that doesn't fill its pages with unnecessary side trips into some hidden magical world just to detail other creatures; it spends its time on character development and describing a vivid turn-of-the-century New York populated by immigrants of all kinds. My highest recommendation!
August 28, 2018
This book was beautiful. It was written incredibly well, I loved the plot and the characters and it was really quite unique in comparison to other books I've read. There were a few things that irritated me, though, and I feel these things let the book down, and my final rating for it.

Firstly, the front cover. THE FRONT COVER! I just have so much love for a beautiful book cover, and this one is no exception. This one is that mesmerising, I'd purchase the book without reading the blurb. Madness you say? Yes, most likely!
Helene Wecker has a totally fresh and beautiful style of writing. It is fairytale like, but it is immensely descriptive and I think this adds so much to the story. She was exceptionally good at writing from other characters perspective, and I cannot fault her there. At many points in the story, I felt as if I was really there, taking in the incredible sights and smells of the story. It takes talent to do that. I love the way the two characters combined together into one story. It was done stylishly, and I was definitely satisfied with how it eventually occurred.

This was a fairly long book, and I found the plot took ages to actually go anywhere, even though I enjoyed what I was reading. There were some things, that I didn't discover, until the last few chapters, which in some cases, is ok, but in this book, it didn't work for me, and it left me feeling mildly frustrated. Some scenes in the book were entirely irrelevant to the plot, and really didn't need to be included, whereas more time could have been spent on the important plot twists.
The last issue, that really got to me,was the ending. It was mediocre. I was hoping for something more, but in all honesty, it left me feeling kind of "meh"
However, despite my personal preferences in regards to this book, I would recommend it, as it was overall, a unique and satisfying read.

Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,355 followers
July 20, 2021
Click here to watch a video featuring this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Cataloged as historical fiction, this book divulges the story of several immigrants living in New York at the turn-of-the-century, but the author subtly weaves two unique immigrant characters into the narrative, a golem and a jinni, giving the book an element of fantasy. Maybe it was the jinni's mysterious origin story unfolding, or the golem's emotional plight, or perhaps it was just fun to look through a picture window and see what life was like for those who crossed the ocean and smiled with tears in their eyes when they saw a crowned woman holding a torch to the sky; whatever the reason, its temperate pace was not enough to stop me from turning page after page after page.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,788 reviews675 followers
August 30, 2020
A golem and a jinni walk into a NY City bar.
“I am a down to earth kind of girl,” says the golem.
“Nice,” says the jinni. “Can I offer you a light?”

When Wecker contrives to have a golem (a creature fashioned of clay) meet a jinni (a creature of fire) in New York City, it could have become a parody or resulted in a series of tropes. That isn’t the case.

Wecker carefully crafts her context for this encounter and gives us a “marvelous” series of insights into what might have happened in the Manhattan of over 100 years ago, if such meeting could have taken place. It is, by turns, funny, sad, amazing, touching, thrilling and surprising.

The plot is complete with rich man/poor man and coming to America subplots. It is full of chance meetings and coincidences but most readers, I believe, will accept those while exploring the multiple layers of experiences that Wecker offers.
Profile Image for Annette.
798 reviews382 followers
February 28, 2022
What attracted me to this story was the creativity of blending two mystical figures Golem with Jinni and what comes out of it.

The story begins very strong with introducing both mystical figures and how they arrived to be in NYC. But then I kept waiting and waiting for them to meet and for some poignant story to come out of this. But before they met, I lost interest in the story.

The book is almost 500 pages with a fine print, meaning with regular print it’d be probably 600 pages. I found it too stretched out.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews610 followers
April 17, 2014
"Passover stretched on, and Lower East Side turned into one giant craving: for a pastry, a bagel, anything really, as long as it wasn't matzo". SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE!!!!
Its Passover over week right 'now' ---(Jews all over the world are celebrating Freedom this week --(suffering? ---giving up their BREAD) ---- me! me! me!!!!!

Yet, a few things HAVE change: With many people on gluten-free diets today ---SOME Jews are passing on 'bagels' all year long! (we're use to suffering anyway...having received the GUILT-STAMP on our tush at birth)!

So? what do I say about this book? I'll NEVER forget it. TOO much to talk about in one review. (maybe I should read others). It would even be fun to read this book again sometime. --(see a movie made of it) ---Great BOOK CLUB pick!!! (many discussions to pull out of "The Golem and the Jinni")

I LOVED the conversations between the Golem and the Jinni while exploring New York City at night.

A few favorite 'conversation-topics':
1) How is relying on others a weakness?
2) "If by some chance or magic you could have your master back again, would you?
3) The conversation about being a servant/slave ....vs. being independent was deeply engaging.
4) Do you think we're all good at heart? Or can we only be both good and bad?
5) Whats it like to feel desires and fears? HAVE ***YOU*** had many conversations about this (as to what it FEELS like with YOUR friends?)....

I've not even touched on the entire fairy-tale-style of this story. VERY CREATIVE!!!!!

I was nervous to begin this book. I had looked at it many times (haven't read reviews) --just read through parts of the book in the book store ---(kept debating and debating). I was afraid it would be OVER MY HEAD --and NOT my style.
It was NOT over my head. The book was CREATIVE-WISE-UNIQUE-FUN to read!

Its hard to believe this is the authors first novel! WOW WOW WOW!!!!
Profile Image for  Linda (Miss Greedybooks).
348 reviews103 followers
August 10, 2016
There just are not enough stars - I just finished this fantastic book! The Golem and the Jinni was crafted like a fine weaving of well phrased words. I admit I do not know much about Jewish or Arab cultures, 1890 New York is also a new subject for me. I was enthralled by the magic that is so artfully presented in this lovely story! Even things that are frightening have such an empathetic edge, they are softened to be quite palatable. The research seems thorough, very believable, I learned about things I knew very little about before. I was so wrapped in all the characters, and glad to see there was not the entire "and they all lived happily ever after". The story so beautifully unfolded, I wondered how all of the different characters were going to be tied together, how the paths would eventually cross. I loved the way the Golem and the Jinni both worked at becoming human, the emotions developing and evolving. It is amazing this is a first book, I will read anything that she writes.
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