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Reviewletts: ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ and ‘The Goldfinch’

by Kim on December 11, 2013 · 29 comments

In addition to all of the great nonfiction I read, I read a lot of great fiction this year too. I haven’t reviewed all of it, but I have tried to write about books I really enjoyed or books that have gotten some general buzz. With that in mind, here are some brief thoughts on a couple other books I picked up in the last couple months.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

the golem and the jinni by helene weckerIn The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free. Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection.

I used to read a lot of historical and contemporary fantasy novels. This was, at least in part, because when I was a kid I used to choose books from the library based on length, not subject, and fantasy novels tend to be really, really long. Although I tend to read more nonfiction now, I still love picking up a book that plays with elements of genre fiction.

The Golem and the Jinni is definitely literary, historical fiction, but I loved the use of myth and fantasy elements in the story. I also really enjoyed the characters of the golem and the jinni. Wecker brings their differing personalities to light in the context of immigrant communities at the turn-of-the-century. This was a wonderful, absorbing read.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

the goldfinch by donna tarttIt begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

I finished this enormous, 784 page brick of a novel a couple months ago, and I’m still not sure what to say about it. I felt very smart while I was reading it because I recognized the novel as Dickensian before I read any reviews that called it Dickensian. I also read the entire book with absolutely no idea where the plot was going, but deeply happy to go along for the ride. Donna Tartt knows how to write a gorgeous sentence that hooks into other elegant sentences that build into these lush and descriptive paragraphs and chapters. The Goldfinch was a pleasure to read, even when it felt like it was never going to get anywhere (hence, Dickensian [but in a good way]).

Disclosure: I received copies of both books from their respective publishers for review consideration. 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy December 11, 2013 at 5:56 am

EW just listed Wecker’s book as one of the best of the year! I was a little afraid to read it because fantasy is not my thing, but I know that is close-minded and I probably in reality would love it. The Goldfinch too…I put it off because it was so long! I’m probably missing out big time. Maybe I need to pursue audio?

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I actually think the fantasy element in The Golem and the Jinni was pretty subtle and sophisticated. It’s more about myths and legends than it is what you typically think about with fantasy. If you like historical fiction, then I think it’ll be enjoyable.

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Marie December 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

How funny that you paired these two together. These are my two favorite books of 2013!

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bermudaonion (Kathy) December 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

I really enjoyed The Goldfinch, too – it was meandering at times but, because of the writing, that didn’t bother me.

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Athira December 11, 2013 at 11:59 am

I am planning to read Goldfinch this month. Its size is scaring me but the good reviews I’ve read is making me hope that this book is worth it.

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

It’s definitely a chunkster. It took me a long time to read, but in the end I felt like it was worth it.

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Kailana December 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I started The Golem and The Jinni, but because of my weird mood this year never finished either. I will have to read The Goldfinch one day, but I am not in a big rush!

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Shannon @ River City Reading December 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Is it weird that I’ve read all these chunksters this year and for some reason the size of The Golem and The Jinni scares me? I think it’s because it’s fantasy AND chunky. I have a copy and every time I see another great review I reach for it…I’ll get there!

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

The Golem and the Jinni read really fast for me, if that helps you with your decision :)

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susan December 11, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I will likely get to The Goldfinch in 2014 but b/c of its size I’m not in a huge hurry. Big fan though after reading the Secret History twice over the years.

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Rebecca @ Love at First Book December 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I can’t wait for The Goldfinch! I bought it Black Friday for cheeeeeaaaaaapppppp and will be reading it SOON!

Also, I enjoyed The Golem but I wish it was like 150 pages shorter. Even though I love books of all sizes, sometimes I find myself wanting to slim down some of the huge chunksters.

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 3:26 pm

That’s interesting! I felt like the book clipped along pretty well. I’m not sure what I would cut if I were going to trim it.

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Kimberly @ Bookmark To Blog December 11, 2013 at 10:47 pm

I just ordered The Goldfinch from Audible. I needed something on the longer side to listen to over Christmas break. Hopefully I’ll like it.

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Vasilly December 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I love how you paired these two together! I’m starting a Goldfinch read-along tomorrow. Plus, I didn’t finish The Golem and the Jinni. I’ll get to it this year or next. ;-)

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Katie @ Doing Dewey December 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I think it’s a lot of fun that you intentionally picked longer books when you were younger :) I’ve heard such good things about The Golem and The Jinni, I can’t wait to read it.

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Kim December 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Picking long books started out of necessity. I read ALL THE TIME but only got rides to the library every couple of weeks — I need big books to keep me occupied :)

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Sheila (Book JOurney) December 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I want to read both of these books!

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Aarti December 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I have both of these on my library wishlist! I don’t know if I can do The Goldfinch… that is a long audio haul! I should read The Secret History first.

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Jenny @ Reading the End December 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Remind me — have you read The Secret History? I liked The Goldfinch quite a bit but it did move slowly! And The Secret History, in its second half at least, felt like it was moving at a breakneck pace.

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Kim December 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm

I did read The Secret History. I think I loved it? I’m having trouble remembering now… weird. I do remember the incredible pace of the last half of that book.

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Jeanne December 16, 2013 at 10:17 am

I agree that The Golem and the Jinni was an easy read, and parts of it were really funny. The Golem angst. The parts about free will for characters whose natures have been determined by fictional traditions. It reminded me of the bit in Moonlighting when Cher’s character says she’s in love with Nicolas Cage’s character and another character yells “Get Over It!”

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Kim December 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I love your comparisons :)

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Cindie @ Nonfictionado December 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Goldfinch stares me in the face every time I open my Kindle Daily Deals email because it’s always one of the top cellars, but I never get around to buying it! Perhaps in 2014…

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Kim December 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

It’s a book that takes a little patience, in part because it moves forward slowly. But I think the payoff is worth it :)

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mandy January 1, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I’m have both of these on my wish list. Which one do you recommend more?

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Kim January 1, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Honestly, depends what you’re on the mood to read; they are very different book. If you want history or something a little fantastical, the I’d grab The Golem and the Jinni. If you want something that’s contemporary and more grounded, I think The Goldfinch would be a better pick.

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mandy January 1, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Thanks. I just want something I can’t put down! Sometimes I choose a book with great reviews on a bestseller list and it feels like a university school assignment as opposed to entertainment. :)

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Kim January 1, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I think The Golem and the Jinni would be better for that then. The Goldfinch is great, but it’s a much slower build.

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mandy January 1, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Thanks!

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