Book review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You really don’t need to read this review. It’s probably better if you don’t. If you think you’re even slightly interested in this book based on the title – which let’s face it, tells you pretty much all you need to know -then go and read it.

I’m serious. If you’ve a passing interest, even, in golems, in jinns, in magic and myth, just go.

And people who bypass the book because they think it’s going to be all magickque and twee? Well, fuck ’em, because they’ll miss out. Because, yes, there is magic in here – and I’m someone who normally can’t handle dreamcatcher, velvet-pantsed horseshittery, which is odd given my intense interest in esoterica – but it’s not really what The Golem and the Jinni is about.

It’s about being a migrant. It’s about New York. And overarchingly, it’s about the search for meaning. And though there’s leads who are near-mythic creatures, or who have been touched by magic or madness, devilry or greed, all of them are struggling to create meaning in their lives – through jewellery, through exploration, through work, through mystical endeavour, through love, through the mimicry of normalcy.

That’s the secret of this work: it takes fantastic creatures and, without lessening their origins, without diluting their being, makes them appear as us. As beings attempting to pass as people, and looking for happiness – and to ensure their actions aren’t costly to others.

I’m being cagey about what goes on in the book because it’s the first time in a long time where I’ve felt bad about the prospect of spoiling the read for someone else. It’s something I want to press on others, something for which the term “wonderful” – yeah, as horrible as that is to read in reviews, as it generally indicates Kool-Aid consumption – seems pretty natural.

My reading over the past year has been sporadic at best: there’s been a lot going on and it’s often been hard to find the level of concentration to commit to a book. But for the (extended) time I was reading this, I at least felt guilty about not having the attention to give the book. I knew that when I could carve out time to read it, I would be rewarded. It’s frustrating, in that it’s a book that pretty much demands to be read in one go, and when you can’t quite do that? Ugh.

So on that alone, this is a book to file next to your Boyles, your Chabons, your American Gods and your literary popcorn. Not lightweight, no – but diverting, compulsive and seemingly bottomless. There’s regret at the end of it, but it’s because there’s no more – for now.

This was my hands-down highlight of the past year of new-discovery reading. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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