Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weldon's reply:
Right now I'm blissfully sternum-deep in Helene Wecker's debut novel, 2013's The Golem and the Jinni. And let's go ahead and slap a big ol' asterisk on the end of that last sentence right now, because technically I'm re-reading it.Learn more about the book and author at Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.
That's not something I do a lot, but I'm doing it for this book, because the damn thing works so well, so unshowily, and with such assured grace that I wanted to go back, get a look under its hood and root around a bit.
To back up: The Golem and the Jinni is set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. A golem -- the legendary creature of Jewish folklore -- arrives in America from the old country utterly lost. She's been made in the shape of a woman, see, and like any golem, she is imbued with the driving need to serve a master. That master died in passage, however, and she must somehow make a life for herself without anyone know her secret.
Meanwhile, a proud jinni -- a desert spirit of fire -- trapped in the body of a man by dark magic, finds himself in Manhattan, and is forced to make a life for himself despite the loss of his powers.
That's the plot, but this book is about its language, its complicated and hugely satisfying exploration of the immigrant experience, and its empathy. Its fantasy elements nestle quietly inside its rich and grounded sense of place, and its characters. It's a book that feels lived-in, roomy. The immigrant metaphor that drives it (creatures who live by ancient laws of magic forced to abide by new laws of the modern world) never feels ham-handed or overdetermined; it emerges gently as the story goes forward.
Anyway: I kind of love it? It was the first novel I read after finishing my last book (I don't read much while writing; it's a thing), and it reminded me how much I missed everything that fiction can do that nothing else can.
Last week someone told me Wecker's next book will be a sequel, which made me feel 17 different emotions at once, because I want more of her writing, and I love this world, but I know with an adamant certainty that this novel ended precisely when and how it should.
The Page 99 Test: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.