Friday, 13 June 2014

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker


Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay and bought to life using an ancient Jewish Kabbalistic ritual.  She's created to be the wife of Otto Rotfield, but he dies on their passage from Poland to New York, leaving Chava alone in the nineteenth century city, completely alien to those around her.  As she tries to fit in and suppress her differences, she has a chance encounter with Ahmad, a djinni.  After centuries of freedom in the Syrian desert, Ahmad was enslaved and bound.   Accidentally released by a tinsmith but still trapped in human form, Ahmad is desperate to regain his freedom.  As the two creatures find their way in the city and try to uncover their roots, an unusual bond grows between them.

Advance warning:  this review is going to be glowing!  I've been excited about reading The Golem and the Djinni ever since it first came out, especially as it's been compared to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, one of my favourite novels ever.  The Golem and the Djinni contains so many of the elements that I love to read about; fantasy tied to a convincing mythology, an interesting historical setting, the inclusion of magical elements in a believable way, creatures straight out of Arabian Nights and an exploration of Jewish culture.  In fact, I actually put off reading this book for ages, as I was worried it wouldn't live up to my unreasonably high expectations.

But I shouldn't have worried at all - The Golem and the Djinni is probably my favourite read of the year so far and I can't see anything surpassing it.  The mythology woven into the story by Wecker just felt so plausible and I loved how authentic her nineteenth century New York was.  The mystery of Ahmad's capture and the secrets of Chava's creator was beautifully done, with small clues being dropped all throughout the story.  I loved the sections that took place in Syria amongst the Bedouin people, and also the way Wecker wrote about the Jewish immigrant community in the city.  Chava and Ahmad's friendship felt natural and unhurried, and I like that a lot about this was left ambiguous and unresolved.

It's fair to say that I liked everything about this book.  It's not going to appeal to every reader; it's quite slow paced in places, but in my mind it's a rare example of a great fantasy novel for adults that weaves in historical culture and context in a believable way.   If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or A Discovery of Witches, you'll love this!

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2013
Edition Read: HarperCollins, 2013
Score: 5 out of 5

23 comments:

  1. I haven't read a good fantasy for a while. This sounds interesting. And I love the Vintage cover of The Beautiful and the Damned in the sidebar. You have beautiful editions of books! I love that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a weakness for Vintage Classics, most of the classics I own are from them. I love seeing all of the red spines on the shelf...

      Delete
  2. I don't often read fantasy novels, but I might give this book a try thanks to your review!

    Gemma

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't into fantasy at all until about a year ago but I've really started enjoying it recently. Sci fi is another matter though...

      Delete
  3. I received this for my birthday and am really looking forward to reading it, great to read how much you liked it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Indeed, what a glowing review! I have added all three books you mentioned to my wishlist. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've got some great reading ahead of you :)

      Delete
  5. I meant to read this book last year, but didn't...and then I forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me about this book! It's back at the top of my Must-Read list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was excited about this book for ages before finally reading it. I don't know why I waited so long!

      Delete
  6. Great review! I've had this book on my list for ages. Hopefully I'll read it this year. How did you feel about the characters?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I liked the characters, particularly Ahmad, but then I'm more partial to Middle Eastern than Jewish mythology. Hope you get a chance to read this one.

      Delete
  7. I'm so pleased you loved this one - it was one of my favourite books of last year, and I thought the fantasy elements were so well done and integrated really well with the rest of the story.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh i am SO pleased you liked it!! As you know - I loved it. I'm having a hard time finding something to read since that will engage me in the same way...

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow, what a strong review! I shall have to be all over this one! Do you think it would be good as an audiobook?

    ReplyDelete
  10. This was one of my favorite reads of the year so far too.

    Tanya Patrice
    Girlxoxo.com

    ReplyDelete
  11. I just finished this! I totally agree with your review. This book felt slow-moving at times, then I couldn't put it down. In the end I appreciated its pace because it was so thoughtful. Loved the characters and the depiction of turn-of-century New York.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm so glad you're glowing and gushing over this one. I've put it off for some reason, but it sounds like a book I would enjoy so very much.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I started this one last year, but for some reason I didn't get into all that far. I don't even remember why I put it down. Maybe I should give it another go.

    ReplyDelete
  14. So excited to see a glowing 5-star review of this one! I've had it on my shelf forever since I pre-ordered it, but haven't read it yet -- sometimes it's kind of nice to know I have a really good one waiting for me, even if I feel bad for neglecting it!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am excited that you loved this book. It has been on my list, but I haven't been so sure yet. I will be reading the Jonathan Strange book soon, so if I love that one, this one is surely going to get bumped up.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've read both book but liked The Golem and the Jinni more. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a good book but a bit too intricate for my taste (though I loved the language - not so keen on those looong footnotes). Glad to see you liked it too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I listened to the audiobook of The Golem and the Jinni and it was wonderful! I also loved JS&MN, but have to try Discovery of Witches.

    ReplyDelete