The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The premise of The Golem and the Jinni has an irresistible sort of cosmic balance to it: when a female homunculus named Chava and a male fire spirit named Ahmad collide in nineteenth-century New York, earth meets fire, the mythology of the West means that of the East, the Judeo-Christian tradition collides with one far older, and the ancient past meets the modern era. If only this novel could shed its affected writing, its chronically flat characters, and about a hundred and fifty pages, it might be able to meet this impressive potential. Wecker makes the unfortunate decision to relay the entire story in a faux-historical voice, weighing her sentences down with unwieldy vocabulary and convoluted syntax in a misguided effort (like so many other writers of historical fiction) to stay true to the literary style of the time she portrays. Uninspired prose might be excusable, but, in my view, weak characters are not; populating a fantasy world as Wecker does with transparent characters, single-minded and invariably “good at heart,” is a cardinal sin in any sort of fiction. I have to give the author credit for the alluring symmetry of her premise, but her execution is unremarkable and doesn’t nearly deserve the 500 pages it takes up.
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