I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for four years. You read that right. Four. YEARS. I’m ashamed, I tell you. I bought it because it was cheap and the cover was pretty and I promptly returned to my regular reading. The premise sounded interesting, it really did, but it was just strange enough for me to keep putting it off and eventually forgetting about it all together. Thankfully, my lovely friend Mary mentioned it and told me she thought I would love it, so I dusted it off and gave it a try.
I was immediately engrossed. The Golem and the Jinni both find themselves in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. We get to see a good deal of the city as it would have been in the late 1890s through the eyes of two radically different entities. The Golem finds herself alone in New York, a helpmate created for a man who was gone before she had even lived a day. She was crafted for a much different person than most golems, and must learn to navigate her fledgling life without the guidance of a master. The Golem is sweet, honest, caring, hardworking, and innocent. Seeing the world through her eyes was a delight.
The Jinni awakens trapped in human form with no memory for the past thousand years. He’s brash and selfish, but he’s beautiful and talented and can create astounding artwork from metals. He burns brightly, drawing others to him like moths to flame, but his brightness also repels. There is this vibrant overabundance of life within him that discomforts others.
The Golem and the Jinni frequent radically different parts of the city. The Golem stays near the Jewish neighborhood, drawn to the familiarity of the religion that crafted her. The Jinni awakened in Little Syria, and there he mostly stays. Both of these neighborhoods were lovely to experience through the eyes of our main characters. Each area was rich in heritage and life, and seeing how radically the neighborhoods within New York City differed during this time period was fascinating. I also love how beliefs and heritage infused every aspect of life for people in these neighborhoods.
So, if the Golem and the Jinni live in very different microcosms in New York, how do they meet? Well, you see, besides being mythological creatures, the two share in common something that is both a gift and a curse: they don't need sleep. While that's a great way to not have to waste around a third of your day, it's also lonely and boring. The two meet one night while prowling the streets of their slumbering city, and an unlikely friendship is formed.
The mythos behind each of our main characters was probably my favorite part of the book. I’m a sucker for mythology, but both Kabbalistic and Arabian mythology are lesser known for me. I very much enjoyed learning more about them. I was especially fascinated by Kabbalah, as its roots are also the roots of my own faith.
Wecker’s prose was absolutely lovely. There was a beautiful, easy flow to her words that I appreciated immensely. Nothing ever felt forced, in my opinion. This is one of those books that makes you think more deeply and feel more intelligent just by cracking it open, but in a way that never feels condescending, if that makes sense. I love literary fiction, but it does on occasion feel as if it’s talking down to you. Not so with this book! It definitely felt like literary fiction, but effortlessly so. And I’m not sure if I would call this historical fantasy or magical realism, because it bridges the two very well. I think it’s a book that is book genre defying and genre defining, in a sense. Also, this book just felt so romantic for some reason. Not because of a romantic element, but because of how the time period, subject matter, and prose mingled to create a lovely visual in the minds of readers. My only complaint about this book is that the ending felt just a bit rushed compared to the pacing of the rest of the book. However, I thought Wecker ended things very well, and I felt satisfied by the ending.
If you’re a fan of historical fantasy, literary fiction, magical realism, or just really good stories written really well, I heartily recommend this book. It would also be a fabulous book club option, as there is a plethora of topics to discuss.