Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book does not lend itself to an effusive review.

It’s fine, really. It has an interesting premise. The occasional-flashback story structure is useful for building to the climax. The characters are more-or-less likable.

It’s fine.

It could be so much more than it is, though. The prose is, at best, workmanlike: it gets the job done but is utterly forgettable, sentence after sentence.

The setting could could have propelled the story to greatness: a look at at pre-20th century New York’s immigrant communities and class system through the eyes of two total outsiders. But it’s not to be. There’s almost no difference between the Jewish characters and the Syrian characters except that one group drinks tea and schannps while the other drinks coffee and araq.

Similarly, the opportunity to have a meditation on the nature of free-will is squandered by just shrugging it away. The nature of western theology is winked at but unexplored.

The book even proposes multiple (possibly conflicting) magic systems without really delving into it.

So, maybe all that’s fine. It’s clearly intended to be a fairy-tale and fairy-tales are free to leave all of that sort of thing behind. But this is a fairy-tale without the wonder. And when you’ve stripped out the complexities and questions and wonders of life, history, and magic — you’re not left with much.

This book is largely competent and it’s a not-unenjoyable way to pass a few hours. But — with cookie-cutter characters, cardboard settings, and a disdain of complexity — it never really rises up to be anything else.

I wouldn’t try to stop anyone from reading it, but nor would I recommend it in our world that’s overflowing with fantasy books.

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