Written by Sarah Yoon
My book club often waffles between picks. With three good books spread on the coffee table, we resort to voting by putting coins on top of each and eliminating the one with the least. The process is drawn out, riddled with discussions of pros and cons. We laugh at our indecisiveness but still can’t quite decide. When Elizabeth offered Helen Wecker’s debut novel as a choice, we voted immediately and unanimously. The Golem and the Jinni, nominated by the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel, was a rare find.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book so engaging. The prose, characters and plot were nuanced and exciting. The story took its time to soak in the atmosphere. The Golem and the Jinni is historical fantasy based in the melting pot of late 1800s New York. As immigrants pour into the city, they bring language, religion and mystical entities from across the sea. The golem journeys in a crate until her master is too impatient to wait any longer for his clay bride. He wakes her, but dies even before they reach land, leaving her masterless after only a few hours of existence. Her inborn obedience struggles against the desires of the crowds, as they penetrate her mind. Only when she meets the passion driven jinni does she learn to live as an individual and embrace her being.
Wecker weaves a tale of contrasts that begs for deeper discussion:
- – What is the proper balance between the two extremes found in the jinni and the golem?
- – What does it mean to be alive? Does the golem—a taboo clay puppet that mimics God’s initial creation—have a soul?
- – How does the golem grow throughout the book? Does the jinni grow as well?
- – What responsibility do we have for our actions? How does Sophia Winston’s illness play into this?
- – How can differing religions and classes live side by side?
If you know what’s best for you, you will go pick it up from the bookstore on the way home from work. Message your book club. Tell them it’s go time!