I just finished the most amazing book.
I should warn you, particularly those of you who don’t know me: I love books. I mean, I’m sure you could figure that out simply by the fact that I’m doing this whole 50 Book Project thing and blogging about it, but you still might not fully understand. I don’t like books. I don’t enjoy reading certain books. I love books. Sure, there are a few out there that I’ll read and say, “Wow, that was horrible.” It’s happened. There have been books that I read the first few pages of and said, “I just. Can’t.” There have even been books–and I’m a bit ashamed to admit this–books like the Twilight series, which I’ll read once and think, “Well, that was kind of fun and mindless,” and then months or years later, I’ll be in the middle of something really stressful (it was finals, this time) and say, “You know, I need something completely mindless, let’s pick that up again just so I have something to read while falling asleep,” and I suddenly recoil in horror upon the realization that I didn’t fully notice how horrible something was the first time around. (Sorry, Twilight lovers, but I’m not sorry.) (My test to determine whether a book is well-written is actually to pick it up again. The story can carry almost anything the first time around, but for me to read it again, it needs craft.)
These instances are few and far between.
There are very few books that I read and say, “That was good,” or, “That was okay.” Occasionally, perhaps a “That was beautifully written, though not really my style,” but even then I’m usually still all for it because I’m a sucker for beautiful writing. But most books, I love. I am a non-discriminating lover of books. You’re unlikely to ever read a bad review here. I don’t know if I’m just incredibly good at picking out books or if I’m simply not picky. Either is possible.
So please, let it mean something when I say that of all the books out there that I have read and absolutely loved, this one stands out.
Every once in a while, as I was reading this, I would pause for a moment and marvel at the fact that this was Helene Wecker’s first novel. Her first novel! I can only hope that some day, when I get there, my first novel will be as beautiful as this.
The Golem and the Jinni is a fairy tale all grown up, filled with magic, suspense, heroes, and villains. Throw in some very adult themes: Surviving the drudgery of day to day life. Feeling like there’s more out there for you. Needing someone, but trying not to. Learning to look back at what you’ve lost. And, lastly, what it means to be a person. Now add some beautiful writing. I am seriously wondering what altars Wecker sacrificed at in order to write like this. Zelazny and Jane Austen? I’m not even sure.
I picked up this book at the perfect time: As I suspected, there’s nothing like a bit of fantasy to make the winter wonderland I’m… or… I was in the middle of (until it got up to about 50 degrees today) seem a little bit more wonderful. I’m tiring of the cold, but for a few moments after I was walking back to work from my lunch break yesterday, watching the snow fall around me on our actually-quite-beautiful downtown (and, yes, trying not to slip on the ice underneath the snow), the beauty of the real world mirrored the beauty of the story I was engrossed in.
I’m reluctant to write too many spoilers, simply because the book is still so new–it’s just now out in paperback–so fewer people will have read it and be able to actually read the spoilers without them actually, well, spoiling. But I have to say a few things, right? So.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Why are you still reading? I said, spoilers ahead!
Okay, first, minor spoilers for those of you who haven’t read it but still keep reading even after I warned about spoilers (seriously guys stop it, this paragraph is your last chance). I love how contrasted Chava and Ahmad are from the beginning. Particularly, I love that we see Chava’s entire life, from her conception to her creation to her awakening on the ship to her time in New York–but we see so little of the Ahmad’s. He’s lived for hundreds of years, so how could we? Yet it’s revealed in these lovely little snippets–a memory here, a memory there–until his backstory and the current-day storyline are completely intertwined in a slightly unexpected way. I loved seeing him follow caravans and build his glass palaces, and develop more and more interest in humans as he does this, and seeing his freedom as he flies through the Syrian desert juxtaposed with his confinement in New York. It brought his pain at his imprisonment to life, and allowed us to see the freedom he longed for as he crafted his birds and his tin ceiling.
Now onto the bigger stuff. You may have noticed that I said “slightly unexpected” up there. I knew, I just knew, as soon as Schaalman decided to go to New York to seek out eternal life, that he had something to do with the evil wizard who imprisoned the Jinni in the first place. I don’t think I was supposed to know this–I think I was supposed to be worried about Chava. And I was! I knew he’d find her, and he’d try to either destroy her or take control over her (since the Rabbi was conveniently dead at this point, which made me very upset but was necessary)– but I just had a feeling that finding her would be a side effect to finding Ahmad and revealing whatever connection he had to the wizard. She tricked me, though. I had a flickering moment of oh I bet it’s the same person! but I didn’t latch on to that idea because we had seen Schaalman’s whole backstory, and seen him grow up, and reincarnation just seemed, well, unlikely. Oh, but it was amazing!
And can I just say how much I loved Ice Cream Saleh? I was so happy to see the role he eventually played.
END SPOILERS. YOU CAN LOOK AGAIN NOW.
I just, I absolutely loved this book. Have I said that yet? I’m tempted to say something incredibly cheesy, like “An Instant Classic!” (but I won’t). A new favorite, though, to add to that ever-growing pile of favorites. And to my shelf that was previously reserved for Gaiman and Zelazny.
And, for book 3, I’ll be reading…
Runaway by Alice Munro. I read a short story by her for my book club (“Train”) and loved it, and then thought about it, and realized with horror that I had never read Alice Munro before. On the way out of our meeting (which is, conveniently, at a bookstore), I grabbed the first book by her that I saw. My copy doesn’t say “stories” on the bottom like that, though–I didn’t even realize it was short stories until I went to grab that picture to post! And since I loved “Train” so much, I’m not even remotely disappointed, though I’ll still be picking up a novel of hers later on.