1899. On a ship bound for New York in the middle of the Atlantic, a Golem comes to life. Soon after, her master and sole reason for living, dies. A little ways across the water, a Jinni turned human emerges from more than a thousand years of captivity in a flask in the shop of a tinsmith in lower Manhattan, thousands of miles away from his home in the Syrian desert. Both are out of time and out of place. Who are they in such circumstances? And who will they become?
So begins Helene Wecker’s debut novel, which reached inside my body and grabbed my guts with such force, I couldn’t let go of it until I’d finished.
I hate to oversell it, because I know how weird some people get about that sort of thing. Afterwards they come at you with knives. You said this book was amazing! You said it would cure cancer! You said I would get laid after! Honestly, I don’t know what they’re thinking when this happens, because reading is always very personal, at least the way I do it. So maybe it won’t be overselling it if I say to you all that I loved this book because it felt so very personal. Because even though fantastical things were happening all over the place and its events occur over 100 years ago, this book is one of the most *real* books I’ve ever read. The atmosphere, the characters, the culture. Everything about it.
And then, of course, there is the love. And not just romance. This book is NOT a romance, although there is a love story in it. Mostly this is a story about two people (plus the side characters, who are fleshed out in a lovely manner) who have to figure out how to live in a world they weren’t built for and have no experience with. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wecker set her story in turn of the century New York when so many people were immigrating to America from The Old Country, whichever Old Country you prefer, although this book mostly focuses on the Little Syria and Hebrew neighborhoods. It’s a world in which everyone has delineated roles, and they cling to those roles in the face of the large and unfamiliar country they are now inhabiting. The contrast between all these immigrants and the Golem and the Jinni makes for a very satisfying read. (The contrast between all the different settings and cultures was great as well.) There’s also some lovely meditation on religion and faith, but again mostly it’s all about the characters. And I won’t spoil it, but there are some pretty great plot twists as well.
I checked this book out of the library, and am regretting it. The actual physical book was *gorgeous*. Thick paper, set in old timey typeface, with navy blue-tipped pages. I need to own it in hardcover immediately, considering how much I ended up loving it (I stayed up way too late last night finishing it, and am now wasted for my work day, but it was totally worth it).