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The Golem and the Jinni: A Brief Review

I'd been meaning to read THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker for quite some time and finally pulled it out off my TRB list.

The idea is intruiging.  A Jinni from Syria is released from his bottle in New York's Little Syria neighborhood in 1915, hundreds of years after he was imprisoned.  An iron band on his wrist keeps him from remembering how he was imprisoned in the first place and forces him to live among humans.  Meanwhile, a man in Eastern Europe pays a powerful rabbi to fashion a realistic Golem woman for him so he can have the perfect wife, but the man dies while emigrating to New York, leaving the Golem without a master and struggling with newly granted free will.  Circumstances and other people bring the Golem and the Jinni together.

The book suffers quite a lot in its execution.  Wecker spends far too much time wandering through her character's thought processes. In more skilled hands, this could have been fun or even riveting. Unfortunately, Wecker pauses her narrative to create several paragaphs of dull, leaden prose that could--and should--have been trimmed and tightened.  (Where was her editor?)  Her Golem does a great deal of internal whining about how constrained she is, despite her newfound choices, and she spends the vast majority of the book sitting in her room, ruminating about how dull her life is and how risky it is for her to go out and be a person.  (She fears making a mistake and being uncovered as a Golem.)  After the third page about her latest sewing project, we readers are bored as well.

The Jinni also has to hide his true nature for fear of discovery, and this becomes dull as well.  A budding forbidden romance between him and a human woman seems at first to be a central character plot, but it abruptly fizzles and goes nowhere, with no decent resolution.  Like the Golem, the Jinni is constantly portrayed as weak and helpless, and he gets into enormous trouble whenever he dares actually DO anything.  Boring.

It's actually possible to skip over entire sections and still follow the story.  The middle of the book sags badly, and nothing at all happens for entire chapters.

According to the author's note, Wecker did enormous amounts of research into the Little Syria of 1915, but you'd hardly know it by reading the book.  With the exception of a dance hall and a tin roof (which are described in great detail), the setting is given short shrift.  We have a generic coffeehouse, a generic smith's forge, a generic mansion, and a generic bakery.  (And, I might add, bakers work at night so the breads and rolls are ready to buy first thing in the morning. They don't work during the day, as the novel portrays.)

Wecker's prose =does= shine when it comes to portraying Jewish mysticism and just how the Golem of legend might work in "modern" New York, and her development of Jinni culture is great fun to read as well.  This doesn't overcome the books enormous flaws.

I wanted to like this book.  I worked hard to like this book.  But I just couldn't. Give it a miss, folks.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
deborahjross
Oct. 6th, 2016 01:42 am (UTC)
fwiw, I gave up half way through, meaning to get back to it, and never did.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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