Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Golem and the Jinni appeared on my to-read list sometime in recent months, having been recommended to me probably by Goodreads. It sounded interesting and it had a very high rating, so i thought i might read it some day. And then in a moment when i was trying to pick something to read, i noticed that my local library was going to be having a book discussion for this title in July. So i bought it, and the ebook happened to be on sale for two bucks, and i tore through all 500+ pages of it in a little over a week. The book discussion is tonight—i made it!

My reviews usually dive straight into whether or not i liked the characters in a book, because up until recently that has been my number-one criterion for reading enjoyment. However, I recently read an article in The New Yorker entitled “Would You Want To Be Friends With Humbert Humbert?” which really got me thinking about why i would require every book’s protagonist to be likeable. This particular line stuck with me: “If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities.”

As it happens, i did like the characters in this book quite a lot—not that i consider that to be of utmost importance anymore. I thought that the golem and the jinni were both somewhat frustrating and rather fun for completely opposite reasons, which of course is the crux of the story. I thought all of the supporting characters were well thought-out and fascinating as well, and i loved getting into their backstories and watching them intertwine with one another. There were close to a dozen characters who all played an important role in how the whole turn of events wound up, and it was all very neatly woven and played out. I was satisfied at the end, for reasons i would not have foreseen.

In fact, some of the things that usually satisfy me at the end of a book were missing from this one. We don’t know exactly where the characters are headed. We know that the two main characters have fallen in love, but they’ve never said it outright and never physically acted on it. Not even a kiss! And i wouldn’t say that the resolution of the main problem(s) was entirely satisfying, either. I had hoped for a more reassuring fate for each of them. And yet somehow, i’m not disappointed. The way things happened for each person involved was pretty interesting.

This story has a lot to do with issues of culture and immigration and religion and tradition, but nothing too harrowing happens in order to spotlight those things. Which is to say, i was glad to be able to observe and think about those issues without being suckerpunched by them, which is the way i feel a lot of literary fiction likes to handle things. Fantasy is usually a lot lighter than literary fiction, which is why at this stage in my life i prefer it. I’m sensitive. This was a nice blending of the two styles; a look at reality through a slightly fantastic lens. That’s an approach that i very much enjoy, and i hope i can find other well-researched fantastic historical/literary fiction novels.

I liked the historical tidbits about New York at the turn of the century. I liked pondering (and even getting confused by) the cultural differences. I loved the way the two fantastical creatures from two different cultures were crafted into these perfect opposites, and the way that each of them was an exaggeration of human nature. Their trysts in the city in the middle of the night were pure fun. Even their mundane mock-human lives were entertaining to read about. And the great ethical challenges they faced—to be or not to be?—were fascinatingly tragic, yet hopeful.

Helene Wecker’s writing is very neat and nice and well done. The whole book is well done. I definitely enjoyed this one, and i’m looking forward to seeing who else in the neighborhood enjoyed it, too.

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