I had been seeing a lot of good buzz about Helene Wecker's debut novel Tales from the Laundry Pile leading up to its release so I decided to put myself on the list at my library. Fast forward a month or so and I finally had the book in my hot little hands. I decided to make it my hundredth read of the year and I finished it over the long weekend. It was a riveting and magical story that was slow to grab me but grab me it did.
Here's the (super long) synopsis:
Helene Wecker's dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.If that sounds kinda crazy, it's because it is. But it totally works! I was worried at first because it took me awhile to really get into the story. I think it's because it was a good ways into the book before the Golem and the Jinni even meet. The background that I was given prior to that was important but I just wanted to hurry things along so they could meet each other and the story could really get moving. Once they did meet they began interacting on a regular basis and I think that's finally when I got hooked on the story.
Struggling to make their way in this strange new place, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their neighbors while masking their true natures. Surrounding them is a community of immigrants: the coffeehouse owner Maryam Faddoul, a pillar of wisdom and support for her Syrian neighbors; the solitary ice cream maker Saleh, a damaged man cursed by tragedy; the kind and caring Rabbi Meyer and his beleaguered nephew, Michael, whose Sheltering House receives newly arrived Jewish men; the adventurous young socialite Sophia Winston; and the enigmatic Joseph Schall, a dangerous man driven by ferocious ambition and esoteric wisdom.
Meeting by chance, the two creatures become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
There was a lot more history in this novel than I was expecting. We get a sense of Ellis Island and what immigrants had to face when they arrived in New York City in the 1800s. There was an interesting mix of fantasy and history in this novel and I think that's what makes it so unique and captivating.
I was really invested in the characters' stories. Chava, the Golem, was so careful to avoid any behaviour that would arouse suspicion of what she is. Ahmad, the Jinni, on the other hand, was much more reckless even though he knew that he should be cautious. I wanted both of them to stay safe from the ordinary dangers - someone spotting that Chava doesn't actually need to breathe or that Ahmad could melt metal with his fingers - as well as the supernatural. I really liked how things ended and I think Wecker did a good job of wrapping things up.
Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni is much more than a fantasy novel. It's also a look into different worlds, different religions, different beliefs, and how they all came together in 1800s New York City. I think my favourite part of the novel was getting a glimpse into the lives of the immigrants and how geographically divided the cultures were, even when they were in the same city. If you're looking for a really great story with a healthy dose of magic, check out this novel. It's a great read!
Happy reading :)