I was slightly daunted when Helene Wecker’s book arrived. At 644 pages, I was remembering all the overly-long books with sub-plots that were pointless from the list. And while it is a slow burn, it was totally worth it. I think my only criticism was that it inevitably could have been shorter but then you wouldn’t have felt so much for the characters by the end.
So, the story is about a golem without a master and a djinni newly freed from 1000 years in a copper flask. They both find themselves in New York city in the late 1800s, trying to find their way in a strange world. Both restless in the evenings (as they don’t sleep), the come across each other in the evening and strike up a tense but warm friendship. Tense as their inherent characters are so different – one built for being mastered and the other inherently free.
It is so lovely. Not just delightful, absolutely lovely. The characters, the world, the city are just so lovingly crafted and the story is beautifully woven. The communities that Chava (the golem) and Ahmad (the djinni) are both struggling immigrant communities. Chava becomes part of the Jewish community, with friends being the Rabbi who recognises what she is and the place she ends up working. The djinni is in a Syrian community, a mixture of both Muslims and Christians.
There’s no complaints about the gender balance – there’s lots of women who play important parts in the stories as well as men. But even more so, all the characters are different in personality and temperament, even though they are all supporting characters they all have a backstory and are different from each other. What was also kind of nice was the intermingling of religious and non-religious, for various reasons. There wasn’t any monolithic characteristic in either community or with the characters themselves.
I am super thrilled that there’s going to be a sequel, set in World War One but not until 2018 (or so Goodreads says). Man, am I looking forward to that book.
It’s not to say that it was all sunshine and rainbows. There’s darkness, mistakes, worry, poverty, illness, danger and death. But oh man, was it ever just a wonderful story. Definitely one of the top reads of this year for sure.