Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni

Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni PBI’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour for the paperback release of The Golem and the Jinni!

The Golem and the Jinni was certainly one of the buzziest books of 2013. Written by a debut author, this book started showing up everywhere! For myself, I sat up and took notice as soon as I read the title (and saw that gorgeous cover) — then paid even more attention as the initial reviews rolled in, all marveling over the originality of the story and the beauty of the writing.

Well, guess what? All that praise? Totally justified.

I finally read The Golem and the Jinni as one of my last books in 2013 — and wanted to kick myself for waiting so long to read it!

In brief, The Golem and the Jinni is the story of two mythical beings from two very different cultures: The Golem is a creature from Jewish mysticism, a human-like creature of clay whose purpose is to obey and protect its master. (Most famously, there is the legend of a golem created by the Rabbi of Prague in the 16th century to defend the Jewish ghetto against attack. Once the golem’s mission was completed, it returned to inanimate clay.) The Jinni is a legendary being from Arabian tales, a desert spirit of fire with the ability to take on different forms — but don’t confuse the Jinni in The Golem and the Jinni with the big blue guy from Disney’s Aladdin!

In this lovely novel, a female golem and a male jinni — both with human appearance — find themselves, accidentally and unwillingly, in New York in 1899, and must find a way to blend in, survive, and adapt to living among humans. Chava, the golem, is taken in by a kindly rabbi and finds a home in the Jewish Lower East Side, by all appearances a modest young widow who keeps to herself while working in a bakery and taking in mending. Ahmad, the jinni, can work wonders with metals of all kinds and finds refuge and employment with a tinsmith in the Little Syria neighborhood, but is filled with rage at his lack of freedom and spends each night wandering the city. When Chava and Ahmad cross paths, they recognize in each other a kindred spirit, and form a bond that’s full of disagreement and polarity, but also a deep understanding of what it means to be trapped, to hide one’s true nature, and to long for freedom and purpose.

I loved everything about The Golem and the Jinni. The writing here is lovely, conveying the feeling of listening to a master storyteller. There’s a sense of mythology and otherworldly power pervading the story, and yet it is most firmly rooted in the day-to-day realities of life in the early days of the 20th century. New York comes alive within the pages, filled with immigrant communities, ethnic loyalties, the sights and smells of a cramped city without modern conveniences; yet it is also a city striving to improve itself and modernize from moment to moment. From the Bowery to Central Park, the characters explore the nooks and crannies of Manhattan, its beauty and its ugliness, as well as the people who call it home.

We come to care deeply about Chava and Ahmad, and yet can also understand the sentiments and superstitions of the people who meet them and, without understanding why, sense innately that these two are different and perhaps dangerous. Embedded within the story is an examination of what it means to have a purpose in life, and whether anyone can truly overcome his or her essential nature and make themselves over into someone new. As Chava and Ahmad struggle to change their destinies and find freedom, they confront their own limitations and must either find a way to start fresh — or admit defeat, and allow themselves to be destroyed.

There are small moments of great beauty — for example, Ahmad’s ability to create delicate silver and gold animals using only his hands — as well as excitement, danger, and even peace. The scenes of bustling New York are set in contrast with Ahmad’s memories of his lost life in the desert, pursuing a Bedouin encampment and ultimately falling victim to its vengeance. In The Golem and the Jinni, the author skillfully weaves together a modern-day tale with something out of legend, and the blending is masterfully done.

I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough! Start to finish, The Golem and the Jinni is captivating and magical, and an absolute treat to read.

About the Author:

Helene WeckerHelene Wecker grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a small town north of Chicago, and received her Bachelor’s in English from Carleton College in Minnesota. After graduating, she worked a number of marketing and communications jobs in Minneapolis and Seattle before deciding to return to her first love, fiction writing. Accordingly, she moved to New York to pursue a Master’s in fiction at Columbia University.

She now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.


The details:

Title: The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.

tlc logoFor further information, visit the author’s website or stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Thursday Quotables: The Golem and the Jinni


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!


The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
HarperCollins, 2013

He was beginning to shiver, but he ignored it. Instead he turned and gazed up at the city that rose from the water’s edge, the enormous square buildings that reached far into the heavens, their windows set with perfect panes of glass. As fantastical as cities like ash-Sham and al-Quds had seemed from the caravan men’s tales, the Jinni doubted that they’d been half so wondrous or terrifying as this New York. If he must be marooned in an  unknown land, surrounded by a deadly ocean, and constrained to one weak and imperfect form, at least he’d ended up somewhere worth exploring.

Does anyone not love New York???

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Click below (next to the cute froggy face) to link up your post! And be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables too.
  • Have a quote to share but not a blog post? Leave your quote in the comments.
  • Have fun!

The Monday Agenda 12/23/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

Gathering StormThe Firebird (Slains, #2)Dear Mr. Knightley

Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig: I read this wonderful historical novel the previous week, but posted a review and Q&A with the author just this past week.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley: Done! Loved it. My review is here.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay: Done! My review is here.

What else happened this week in my reading life? Well, I freaked out a teensy bit about book genres. You can read all about it here.

Dinosaur SummerAnd in the realm of reading with my kiddo:

Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear: This sci-fi book isn’t the easiest for reading aloud, but my son and I are committed to seeing it through. It’s interesting, but not necessarily what we expected.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books came my way this week — both of which I tracked down based on recommendations from other book bloggers. Plus, I picked up a Sara Zarr novel at the library, since I enjoyed Roomies so much.

The Fate of Mercy AlbanHowl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)How to Save a Life

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

The Promise of Amazing15819028runaways

The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine: I’m looking forward to reading this ARC. The book’s release date is 12/31/2013.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: I’ve been wanting to read this book since the day it came out last spring! And now, with its paper release coming up at the end of this month, I’m finally committing to reading it. Plus, I’m scheduled to participate in the blog tour in January, so all systems are go!

One of my winter TBR top 10 picks is the Runaways graphic novel series. I’ve been hearing about it for years! Time to give it a try — and if I love volume 1, I’ll probably end up just plowing on through.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.