The Golem and the Jinni.

Position:Book review

By Helene Wecker

Helene Wecker's debut novel reanimates two figures from Jewish and Arab lore and places them in Gilded Age New York.

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THE STORY: Down-and-out Polish businessman Otto Rotfeld seeks to travel to New York for a fresh start with an obedient spouse, and the mystic Yehudah Schaalman creates her from clay. When Rotfeld dies aboard the ship carrying him and his golem-wife (she later becomes known as Chava), though, she's left to wander the streets of New York, an immigrant with no prospects and no identity. When a Manhattan tinsmith unwittingly releases the libertine Syrian jinni, Ahmad, from a copper flask, he--like the golem--is at loose ends in the vibrant, chaotic city, seeking purpose and gratification in his new incarnation. The two stories intertwine in a complex meditation on love, history, and free will.

Harper. 496 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780062110831

Minneapolis Star Tribune *****

"The title characters of The Golem and the Jinni are not the book's only magic. The story is so inventive, so elegantly written and so well constructed that it's hard to believe this is a first novel." CURT SCHLEIER

USA Today *****

"This first novel by Helene Wecker--a Chicago-area native who lives in Northern California--is both old-fashioned and wildly inventive. ... The Golem and the Jinni is an impressive debut, bursting with ambition and magical in all kinds of ways." CARMELA CIURARU

NY Times Book Review ****

"The sometimes slow pace picks up considerably as the disparate characters decipher the past and try to save the souls variously threatened by the golem and the jinni, as well as by the Jewish conjurer and (surprise) a Syrian wizard. The interplay of loyalties and the struggle to assert reason over emotion keep the pages flipping." SUSANN COKAL

New York Times ****

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