Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Synopsis: A golem (a “woman” made of clay) and a jinni (a “man” made of fire) strike up a friendship in turn of the century New York City. They try to survive in their new environment while a threat draws near.

Review: I was very excited to read this book. I had heard lots of good things about it (can’t put it down! historical fantasy!) and it sounded like something I would enjoy very much. I really, really wanted to love this book. And I did enjoy it, but it didn’t strike my soul the way I hoped it would.

The Golem and the Jinni is about Chava, a golem, who is made of clay, and Ahmad, a jinni, who is made of fire. Chava and Ahmad must navigate the unfamiliar streets of New York City and try to survive without many people discovering their true identities. Chava is befriended by a Rabbi, and works in a bakery. Ahmad meets a tinsmith, and goes to work in a tinsmith shop, creating beautiful figurines and jewelry. Chava and Ahmad become friends and join forces to try and defeat a common enemy.

The book is told from various characters viewpoints, and there are so many characters that it soon became confusing. It took me awhile to get through this book, and I think that lead to the confusion. I would read a chapter here, and then a week later another chapter, and I kept forgetting who each character was. Another issue I had was the format I chose to read the book in. I chose to read it on my Kindle, rather than a paperback, and that was a mistake. At the end, when characters start coming together, I wished I could flip back to certain parts, which on a Kindle there is really no easy way to do that.

The Golem and the Jinni is definitely an enjoyable read. It takes place in turn of the century New York City, and the city is definitely a character on its own. You can smell the goodies from the bakeries, you can picture beautiful Central Park and the haunting Bethesda Fountain as you read (one of my favorite places in NYC). You are winding across rooftops at nighttime through Little Syria, and visiting a rich family on the Upper East Side. I loved reading about Chava and Ahmad’s nighttime walks through the city.

I loved the character of Chava, she was relatable, she was likable, and I wanted her to succeed. Her struggle with her true self and how she needs to appear on the outside felt real and she was an interesting character. The character of Ahmad on the other hand, I just didn’t care for him. He was too arrogant, and too moody for me. I found myself skimming through his backstory. And I did not feel any romantic chemistry between Chava and Ahmad. Friendship absolutely, but I didn’t think the romance was believable – it felt like the decision was that they are both special, magical creatures so of course they’ll fall in love! It didn’t feel true to the characters, and I felt that the romance was forced. But there really was not a lot of romance, so that is something that I can overlook, and it truly didn’t affect my overall review of the book.

There were several minor characters that I enjoyed as well. I adored the Rabbi, who takes the Golem in, and I enjoyed Michael, Anna, and Sophia. Michael is the Rabbi’s nephew, and he works at the Sheltering House for immigrants who have just arrived in NYC. Anna works at the bakery with Chava, and Sophia, a rich heiress, has a relationship with Ahmad. However there was also a bizarre pregnancy storyline with one of the minor characters that was just too much like Twilight for me to take seriously. I doubt this is what the author intended!

The Golem and the Jinni does take you away to a magical world, but for me, this type of book I expect to completely transport me, where the world around me falls away and I am immersed completely in what I’m reading. That didn’t happen, and that is why the book is just “pretty good” for me. If I didn’t have it on a Kindle, I probably would not keep the book for re-reading. However, I will definitely keep an eye on this author, Helene Wecker, and would read other books she writes. The Golem and the Jinni is her first book. This was a very interesting premise, and parts of the book had me fascinated, but the whole book was full of too many ups and downs for me to love.

Bottom Line: Definitely worth reading, but the book has a lot of ups and downs. Some scenes will stay with me forever, but as a whole, the book didn’t live up to my expectations. Definitely an original story!

You might like:

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: A tale of two dueling magicians who fall in love. A magical, beautiful book.

I’m interested to now read:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon – a Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

These books and several others are mentioned at the end of The Golem and the Jinni as having inspired Helene Wecker.  These two sounded the most interesting to me.


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