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
In 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
It 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.