This historical fantasy came out last year, and I’m always interested to read fantasy novels that get the amount of mainstream coverage this one did. Also, just in case you needed a reason to listen to an audiobook, June is Audiobook Month!
Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Read by George Guidall. HarperCollins, 2013.
Here’s the premise which hooked me: a young golem and an old jinni, both isolated, meet in the streets of early 20th-century New York and become friends.
It’s a literary story with rich characters, steeped in time and place. Our main characters, Chava the golem and Ahmad the Jinni, are both magical creatures who don’t need sleep, trying to keep themselves both hidden and occupied, especially at night. But from there, they are radically different. Chava cares about everyone, and is very concerned about learning and following all the human rules, even when they seem arbitrary. Ahmad, on the other hand, cares for no one but himself and chafes at the limitations of a newly enforced human existence. But we go in depth into the backstories of a number of other characters, too, who at first seem like detours, but turn out to be highly relevant to the plot. Chava’s circle includes Rabbi Meyer, the kindly old man who first discovers Chava and takes her under his wing; his nephew Michael; the crazy man who created Chava; and the employees of the bakery where Chava takes a job. Ahmad finds work at a tinsmith’s shop, and effortlessly both attracts people like a young boy with a dying mother and a young and beautiful heiress, Sophia (who’s attracted to him in quite a different way), while at the same time repelling the popular owner of the local coffee shop as well as the wandering ice-cream seller, Saleh.
Wecker’s approach makes this a story that will appeal to literary fiction fans as well as fantasy fans – I could see this doing very well with book clubs. It felt like it was bogging down a little in the middle to me (that might have been just that I wasn’t listening often enough for a book this long – over 19 hours), but there was always something to keep me going. George Guidall had a fantastic voice for this, able to capture the age and the ethnicity of the diverse cast. This is a moving look at a fascinating time in history through a fantasy lens, one that deals with deep issues of what it means to be human and to create a meaningful life even though the main characters aren’t human themselves.