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Helene Wecker
The Golem and the Jinni
Harper / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-062-11083-1
Publication Date: 04-23-2013
486 Pages; $26.99
Date Reviewed: 07-08-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction  Fantasy  Science Fiction  Horror

It's easy to get so caught up in the tasks required to get through every day that you miss just how rich those days are. The details that comprise our lives overwhelm us, or fail to make an impression because their texture is so familiar as to make them all but invisible.

One of the many charms of 'The Golem and the Jinni' is that its richly retailed characters, natural and supernatural, and the historical setting take us far enough out of our own lives to let us see them anew when we reluctantly return. Close this book, and the magic within lingers.

Wecker's premise is admirably simple. In New York, in 1899, two very different supernatural creatures cross paths. A golem, created as a bride for an immigrant, comes ashore alone, where she eventually meets a Jinni, freed from captivity by an Syrian immigrant, polishing of course, an old brass bottle. Recognizing their supernatural similarity, they are more out cast than other immigrants and become friends. But their natures are not unknown to at leat some around them, and danger lurks everywhere.

If Wecker's premise is simple, here execution is anything but. From the first sentence, readers will find that Wecker's prose is an immersive pleasure to read. She builds New York at the turn of the twentieth century with a careful eye. 'The Golem and the Jinni' explores the different neighborhoods and boroughs with the perfect level of attention to detail. We're immersed, but unlike our own lives, we're not overwhelmed. Wecker gives us an appreciation of the grungy and the gorgeous, the language of living architecture and the lives within. The descriptions here are almost otherworldly, but grounded in a manner that makes the book feel like a memory.

Wecker's prose serves to create a large gallery of characters, and she manages to bring to life her supernatural beings with a care and intensity rarely realized in genre or literary fiction. The Golem (who does get a name) is a newborn creature but from the Old World, and though she is in some ways a child and child-like, there's a touch of ancient wisdom working in her being. The Jinni is ancient and impatient, more of a young man with a point to prove. Their ethnic origins are fascinating and Wecker offers enough to make them seem very real, but not so much as to derail the New York plotline. The rest of the characters are equally rich and fun to read about, and themselves build up the characters of the different boroughs and neighborhoods. There's a pointillist feeling to 'The Golem and the Jinni' that makes the book particularly immersive.

All this detail and immersion serve a well-designed plot. Wecker manages to keep the tension high, but not artificially so. As the paths of our protagonists cross and re-cross and the dangers to their existence increase, Wecker never overpowers her plot with either needless complications or unbelievable foes. For a book where the two main characters are supernatural creatures, she manages to easily avoid all the pitfalls of both genre fiction and literary fiction.

'The Golem and the Jinni' is the sort of book that you'll read all-too-quickly, slowing down as the end nears because you won't want to leave this world. The production values of the book are also superb; it has a great cover and the pages and design are reminiscent of a small-press limnited edition. Make sure you buy it in hardcover, as it is the sort of volume that you'll want to keep and truly enjoy reading. But when you do close the book, while the world inside may seem to end, you might just find it reborn as you look to the one around you, with a vision of magic and the details that comprise your life, now shimmering in eyes that have seen that magic from the inside.

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