REVIEW: The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.
Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.
Both Chava and Ahmad have changed the lives of the people around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets Dima, a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.
Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?
Dear Ms. Wecker,
Forgive me if, after seven years, I didn’t remember all the little details from “The Golem and the Jinni.” But like it, there is a lot here to be read, taken in, and savored in this intricately plotted story that extends over years, characters, and continents.
Having basically come to this novel almost as a newbie – given how many years it’s been since the first book – I can say that readers can start here but will issue the standard caveat that reading the first book will add to the richness of this one. There are little recaps scattered about of what happened but thankfully this is not done in a huge info-dump. Major kudos for that.
Wow, I’m almost not sure I even want to attempt to describe the plot as there are a variety of characters, in a variety of settings, that all dance in and out and around before finally reaching a crescendo then being wrapped up – a bit – in an epilogue. Fifteen years are spanned and lots of major events lightly touched in ways that enhance this story rather than just being added as a backdrop.
Once again the immigrant communities of New York City figure prominently as two supernatural beings seek to live quietly among them. At the end of “The Golem and the Jinni” I had thought they could work out some kind of happy ending and that is where we begin but like all long term relationships, there are ups and downs, misunderstandings and arguments. After trying to blend into the backgrounds of their new world, both the unchanging Golem and the Jinni must adjust as those around them age and the events and inventions of the 20th century start to impact their lives.
The book is longer than I usually take on these days as I have found my liking and tolerance for saga books has diminished. But as I read, I discovered that I was enjoying myself as the story slowly unfolded. Patience will be required as the plot doesn’t proceed at a breakneck pace. Instead it advances at a rate more equal to how life was then – starting gently and gradually picking up steam as everything comes together.
Even so, there were some parts that I felt dawdled a bit too long and wandered around a bit too much. The ending relied on a method of conveying information that began to reach extreems and felt more like “telling” rather than “showing.” For all that though, it continued to pull me along and made me want to know what would happen and how it would all be wound together. The characters were interesting, though not always kind, and their interactions were written in ways that made them believable. The book has a strong sense of place and time and even if the ending left me feeling more bittersweet, it was nice to revisit Chava and Ahmad and the others again. B-