Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Thoughts: "The Golem and the Jinni" by Helene Wecker

So, it's been a while. Like, a really long while, and here's why:

This book about killed me. Seriously, I know I put this book in my Top Ten Tuesday post on beautiful book covers, and the book in person is even better than pictures online, but I was so incredibly disappointed with its contents that I'm not even sure how to articulate it. Just getting myself through it took several weeks, and I can honestly say it wasn't worth my time.

A shame, really, since the premise was so promising. A golem, an anthropomorphic creature made of clay from Jewish folklore, and a jinni, a supernatural spirit from Arabic mythology, meet in 1899 New York after having arrived from their homelands by means largely beyond their control and struggle to conceal their identities from the people around them. According to the dust jacket:

"Meeting by chance, the two creatures become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice."

Unfortunately, almost none of this happens until the last 300 pages. You spend the first 200 bouncing around between characters and time periods, digesting massive info dumps, only to realize as you're closing in on the nearly 500 pages of this book that most of it was completely unnecessary. There are whole character arcs that don't need to exist for the story to function. You get the feeling that Wecker thought she was making some kind of grand statement about human nature by using all these characters and back stories, but the execution is incredibly clunky and drawn out, not to mention pretty par for the course in terms of these Forrest Gump-style "normal life through the eyes of outsiders" stories.

There were massive portions of The Golem and the Jinni that I just skimmed over because they were so boring and pointless. Wecker takes pains to articulate various aspects of both Jewish and Arabic culture (the backgrounds of herself and her husband respectively), but again, little of this information actually matters. At its core this story could have taken place anywhere during any time period, and the pages and pages spent on cultural exposition don't serve to ground the story so much as just add to its bulk.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: "show, don't tell" is Creative Writing 101. The Golem and the Jinni is almost exclusively tell. That's why it dragged, and that's all there is to it.

Title: The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Published: 2013, HarperCollins
Pages: 486
Would Recommend: Obviously not. If you cut out about 150 pages or so you'd have a much better book, but even then it would still just be ok.