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The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni

4.5 130
by Helene Wecker

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In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling 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


In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling 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. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Patricia Cohen
The senses of permanent loss and dislocation that at times overwhelm the Golem and the Jinni are an inevitable part of the immigrant experience. Drawing on her own Jewish upbringing and her husband's Arab-American culture, Ms. Wecker gives these now nearly universal feelings a particular flavor. And this impressive first novel manages to combine the narrative magic of The Arabian Nights with the kind of emotional depth, philosophical seriousness and good, old-fashioned storytelling found in the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Publishers Weekly
Wecker's first novel is a magical tale of two mythical creatures—a golem from a Polish shtetl and a jinni from the Syrian Desert—struggling to fit in among New York's turn-of-the-19th-century immigrants. The golem is brought to America by poor furniture maker Otto Rotfeld, who had her built from clay to be his wife, but he dies en route. Elderly Rabbi Avram Meyer, recognizing the tall and hardworking young woman's supernatural character, gives her a name—Chava—and a job in a bakery, but ponders whether to destroy her or let her fulfill a destiny that legend dictates includes mayhem and destruction. Meanwhile, a tinsmith, Boutros Arbeely, releases the jinni from a thousand-year-old flask and names him Ahmad. Proud, handsome Ahmad proves a gifted metalworker, seduces a Fifth Avenue heiress, and pines for his long-lost glass palace before meeting Chava, his unlikely soul mate. Wecker deftly layers their story over those of the people they encounter, including a Jewish baker and his wife, a Maronite coffee shop owner and his wife, a doctor turned ice cream vendor, and an apostate social worker. The ending dips into melodrama, but the human touches more than compensate in Wecker's spellbinding blend of fantasy and historical fiction. Agent: Matt McGowan, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Can't we all just get along? Perhaps yes, if we're supernatural beings from one side or another of the Jewish-Arab divide. In her debut novel, Wecker begins with a juicy premise: At the dawn of the 20th century, the shtetls of Europe and half of "Greater Syria" are emptying out, their residents bound for New York or Chicago or Detroit. One aspirant, "a Prussian Jew from Konin, a bustling town to the south of Danzig," is an unpleasant sort, a bit of a bully, arrogant, unattractive, but with enough loose gelt in his pocket to commission a rabbi-without-a-portfolio to build him an idol with feet of clay--and everything else of clay, too. The rabbi, Shaalman, warns that the ensuing golem--in Wecker's tale, The Golem--is meant to be a slave and "not for the pleasures of a bed," but he creates her anyway. She lands in Manhattan with less destructive force than Godzilla hit Tokyo, but even so, she cuts a strange figure. So does Ahmad, another slave bottled up--literally--and shipped across the water to a New York slum called Little Syria, where a lucky Lebanese tinsmith named Boutros Arbeely rubs a magic flask in just the right way and--shazam!--the jinni (genie) appears. Ahmad is generally ticked off by events, while The Golem is burdened with the "instinct to be of use." Naturally, their paths cross, the most unnatural of the unnaturalized citizens of Lower Manhattan--and great adventures ensue, for Shaalman is in the wings, as is a shadowy character who means no good when he catches wind of the supernatural powers to be harnessed. Wecker takes the premise and runs with it, and though her story runs on too long for what is in essence a fairy tale, she writes skillfully, nicely evoking the layers of alienness that fall upon strangers in a strange land. Two lessons: Don't discount a woman just because she's made of clay, and consider your wishes carefully should you find that magic lamp.
Chris Bohjalian
“An inventive and utterly lovely story…The golem and the jinni…are among my favorite fictional people I spent time with this spring…Wecker is a gifted new voice…I’m glad that her talents have been set free in this novel.”
Tom Reiss
“From its eerie opening pages to its shattering conclusion, The Golem and the Jinni is an astonishing debut novel that sweeps us into a gaslit alternate reality rich enough to get lost in.”
Deborah Harkness
“With a delightful blend of the prosaic and the fanciful, The Golem and the Jinni explores what it means to be human as Chava and Ahmad struggle to live and find love while overcoming the powerful adversary who threatens to destroy them.”
“The premise is so fresh...A mystical and highly original stroll through the sidewalks of New York.”
Family Circle Magazine
“Magical thinking comes alive in an enchanting allegory of the immigrant experience as two mythical beings try to make sense of themselves and the world around them.”
“THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.”
Christian Science Monitor
“It sounds like the setup for a really strange joke: “A golem and a jinni walk into a bakery in early 19th-century New York....” But this debut novel—part fantastic tale, part historical fiction—is one of the most highly anticipated fiction releases of the spring.”
“…the most exciting fantasy debut since Susanna Clarke’s JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORELL. Helene Wecker must be a born writer; there is no other way to account for the quality of her prose, as phenomenal as any of the supernatural wonders she delivers in the glorious THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI…”
USA Today
“In the best instances, you don’t merely read a book—you dive in and happily immerse yourself, forgetting the troubles of daily life for a while. The Golem and the Jinni offers just such an absorbing experience. ”
Dallas Morning News
“One of the joys of the novel is in watching two strangers develop a relationship that, while it’s rooted in their shared magical natures, echoes the way ordinary humans can form bonds starting with a random encounter on a busy street.”
Entertainment Weekly
“An intoxicating fusion of fantasy and historical fiction…Wecker’s storytelling skills dazzle…The book’s magic, filtered through the old-time hustle and bustle of the Lower East Side, lingers long after the final page.” EW Grade: A
New York Daily News
“The tale is meant to be magical, and it is, but Wecker’s real sleight of pen is recreating Manhattan as it was then. She has a historian’s grasp of detail and a novelist’s flair.”
Patricia Cohen
“The author makes you care enough about the humanity of these magical spirits to not only see them through to the end but also to regret that you’ve reached the last page.”
San Francisco magazine
“A dazzling debut…You’ll be hooked by the vivid interplay of historical fiction, magical fable, and philosophical musing and the colorful supporting cast…Read it in one long, guilt-free gulp (it’s serious literature!).”
Jane Ciabattari
“Wecker maintains her novel’s originality as she orchestrates a satisfying and unpredictable ending. The Golem and the Jinni is a continuous delight — provocative, atmospheric, and superbly paced. ”
New York Times Book Review
“History, magic and religion braid together in old New York’s tenements…The interplay of loyalties and the struggle to assert reason over emotion keep the pages flipping.”
New York Journal of Books
“THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is recommended to adults who enjoy a good story and have a childlike sense of make-believe.”
Author Magazine
“A beautifully written historical novel with the added spice of the supernatural to make it unputdownable…The novel comes alive with its vivid portrayal of the humor, warmth, and struggle of life in the everyday Lower East Side. The book’s reality is just as captivating as its fantasy.”
Jewish Daily Forward
“Her story is so inventive, so elegantly written, so well-constructed, it is hard to believe that it is her first novel…The books is so good that I wonder if there was some other-worldly power involved in its creation.”
Paul Di Filippo
“Masterful…utterly unique and enchanting…Very few debut novels exhibit the charm, assurance, emotional depth and bravura fabulation which the lucky reader will discover in The Golem and the Jinni.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Inventive, elegantly written and well-constructed…It’s hard to believe this is a first novel. Clearly, otherworldly forces were involved…the story is so complex and intricately woven that it does not lend itself to summary. It would be like pulling threads from a finely crafted garment to describe the whole.”
Library Journal
In 1899 two very different creatures find themselves in New York City. Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay and brought to life by a Polish magician to be the perfect wife. Ahmed is a jinni, a being made of fire, who has been released from a flask he's been bound in for centuries. Forming an unexpected friendship, Chava and Ahmed must learn how to survive undetected while preparing to battle a dangerous adversary. First-time novelist Wecker introduces readers to an immigrant community of kindly rabbis, skillful tinsmiths, and possessed ice cream venders that serves as an excellent backdrop for the debates between Chava and Ahmed about the use of power and the meaning of freedom. VERDICT Full of quirky characters and philosophical and religious musings, this fascinating blend of historical fiction and Jewish and Arab folklore excels when it comes to its gorgeous descriptions and the intriguing flashbacks to the jinni's earlier life, but it lacks some relationship development to ground Chava and Ahmed's romance. Overall this original and fresh story will attract fans of historical fantasy or folktales. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/12.]—Katie Lawrence, Chicago

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Helene Wecker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-211083-1

* 1 *
The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship. The year was
1899; the ship was the Baltika, crossing from Danzig to New York.
The Golem's master, a man named Otto Rotfeld, had smuggled her
aboard in a crate and hidden her among the luggage.
Rotfeld was a Prussian Jew from Konin, a bustling town to the
south of Danzig. The only son of a well- to- do furniture maker, Rotfeld
had inherited the family business sooner than expected, on his parents'
untimely death from scarlet fever. But Rotfeld was an arrogant, feckless
sort of man, with no good sense to speak of; and before five years had
elapsed, the business lay before him in tatters.
Rotfeld stood in the ruins and took stock. He was thirty- three years
old. He wanted a wife, and he wanted to go to America.
The wife was the larger problem. On top of his arrogant disposi-
tion, Rotfeld was gangly and unattractive, and had a tendency to leer.
Women were disinclined to be alone with him. A few matchmakers had
approached him when he'd inherited, but their clients had been from
inferior families, and he'd turned them away. When it became clear to
all what kind of businessman he really was, the offers had disappeared
Rotfeld was arrogant, but he was also lonely. He'd had no real love
affairs. He passed worthy ladies on the street, and saw the distaste in
their eyes.
It wasn't very long before he thought to visit old Yehudah Schaal-
Stories abounded about Schaalman, all slightly different: that he was
a disgraced rabbi who'd been driven out of his congregation; that he'd been
possessed by a dybbuk and given supernatural powers; and even that he
was over a hundred years old and slept with demon- women. But all the

stories agreed on this: Schaalman liked to dabble in the more dangerous
of the Kabbalistic arts, and he was willing to offer his ser vices for a price.
Barren women had visited him in the dead of night and conceived soon
after. Peasant girls in search of men's affections bought Schaalman's bags of
powders, and then stirred them into their beloveds' beer.
But Rotfeld wanted no spells or love- potions. He had something else
in mind.
He went to the old man's dilapidated shack, deep in the forest that
bordered Konin. The path to the front door was a half- trampled trail.
Greasy, yellowish smoke drifted from a chimney- pipe, the only sign of
habitation. The walls of the shack slouched toward a nearby ravine, in
which a stream trickled.
Rotfeld knocked on the door, and waited. After some minutes, he
heard a shuffling step. The door opened a hand's width, revealing a man
of perhaps seventy. He was bald, save for a fringe. His cheeks were deeply
furrowed above a tangled beard. He stared hard at Rotfeld, as though
daring him to speak.
“Are you Schaalman?” Rotfeld asked.
No answer, only the stare.
Rotfeld cleared his throat, nervous. “I want you to make me a golem
that can pass for human,” he said. “And I want it to be female.”
That broke the old man's silence. He laughed, a hard bark. “Boy,” he
said, “do you know what a golem is?”
“A person made of clay,” Rotfeld said, uncertain.
“Wrong. It's a beast of burden. A lumbering, unthinking slave.
Golems are built for protection and brute force, not for the pleasures of
a bed.”
Rotfeld reddened. “Are you saying you can't do it?”
“I'm telling you the idea is ridiculous. To make a golem that can
pass for human would be near impossible. For one thing, it would need
some amount of self- awareness, if only enough to converse. Not to men-
tion the body itself, with realistic joints, and musculature . . .”
The old man trailed off, staring past his visitor. He seemed to be
considering something. Abruptly he turned his back on Rotfeld and dis-
appeared into the gloom of the shack. Through the open door Rotfeld

could see him shuffling carefully through a stack of papers. Then he
picked up an old leather- bound book and thumbed through it. His finger
ran down a page, and he peered at something written there. He looked
up at Rotfeld.
“Come back tomorrow,” he said.
Accordingly, Rotfeld knocked again the next day, and this time
Schaalman opened the door without pause. “How much can you pay?”
he demanded.
“Then it can be done?”
“Answer my question. The one will determine the other.”
Rotfeld named a figure. The old man snorted. “Half again, at the
very least.”
“But I'll have barely anything left!”
“Consider it a bargain,” said Schaalman. “For isn't it written that
a virtuous woman is more precious than rubies? And her virtue”— he
grinned— “will be guaranteed!”
Rotfeld brought the money three days later, in a large valet case.
The edge of the nearby ravine was newly disfigured, a piece the length of
a man scooped away. An earth- stained spade leaned against a wall.
Schaalman opened the door with a distracted look, as though inter-
rupted at a crucial moment. Streaks of mud crusted his clothing and
daubed his beard. He saw the valet case and grabbed it from Rotfeld's
“Good,” he said. “Come back in a week.”
The door slammed shut again, but not before Rotfeld had caught a
glimpse inside the shack, of a dark figure laid out in pieces on a table— a
slender trunk, rough limbs, and one curled hand.
“What do you prefer in a woman?” Schaalman asked.
It was the following week, and this time Rotfeld had been allowed
inside. The shack was dominated by the table that Rotfeld had glimpsed
before, and the young man couldn't help sneaking glances at its burden: a

human- shaped form, draped with a

Excerpted from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Copyright © 2013 Helene Wecker. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


What People are Saying About This

Deborah Harkness

“With a delightful blend of the prosaic and the fanciful, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI explores what it means to be human as Chava and Ahmad struggle to live and find love while overcoming the powerful adversary who threatens to destroy them.”

Tom Reiss

“From its eerie opening pages to its shattering conclusion, THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is an astonishing debut novel that sweeps us into a gaslit alternate reality rich enough to get lost in.”

Meet the Author

Helene Wecker received a BA from Carleton College in Minnesota and an MFA from Columbia University in New York. A Chicago-area native who has made her home in Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, she now lives near San Francisco with her husband and daughter. The Golem and the Jinni is her first novel.

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The Golem and the Jinni 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 130 reviews.
Dieverdog More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was truly unique and I loved the characters - they were very well developed and I'm picky about that. It had a great fantasy premise that was written well enough to seem plausible. The story really drew me in and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the secondary characters were interesting and had nice depth. I also liked getting a flavor of turn of the century New York. The idea of it being in little Syria gave it a unique twist and the Jewish community was fascinating to me also. There was so much to like about this book. The writing was well crafted and had a nice pacing to it. Enough detail to bring it to life but not so much it got bogged down. The plot moved along nicely and kept me interested. Both the golem and the jinni had their flaws but that made them interesting. I really wanted to find out what would happen to them. I would thoroughly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Salman Rushdie's magical realism. I don't care for anyone else's. Until I read "The Golem And The Jinni" by Helene Welker. 1899 NewYork presented as well by anyone since Caleb Carr. Characterization, time, and place like Dickens. Not as dense as Rushdie so accessible by more readers than eggheads like myself. I usually read a book in a day or two, this one I streched out to two weeks like nibbling a great meal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Unlike some who choose to give away the entire plot including the ending, I just want to say tha I love this book. The story moves along nicly without ever getting bogged down. The characters are real and to me believable. I whole heartedly recommend this novel.
Terez More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Masterfully told and beautiful. Wish i would have bought it in hard cover to keep on my bookshelf next to all the other great works of literature!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book well written, I also had this book in Audio format. The narrator is excellent and the varies voices he used for each individual characters was very well done. I highly recommend this book and or audiobook.
Twink More than 1 year ago
The Golem and The Jinni is Helen Wecker's debut novel.....and oh boy, what a debut! We're quite used to books about 'supernatural' beings - vampires, werewolves, witches and more. But Wecker's two protagonists aren't as 'famous'. Otto Rotfield wants a wife to take with him when he emigrates to America. But, he wants her to fit the mold he has imagined. To that end, he approaches a man steeped in mystery and asks him to create a Golem - a creature made entirely of clay and destined to serve its master's every command. She is a masterpiece. When Otto falls ill on the boat journey, he manages to animate the Golem before he dies. And so this creature lands in New York City in 1899, uninformed as to the ways of the world, how to behave, what to expect and how she will hide among the humans. It is her good luck that an old rabbi recognizes her for what she is - and takes her in. Not far away in Little Syria (Lower Manhattan) a local woman brings a battered copper flask to the neighbourhood metalworker for repair. When he erases one of the intricate designs that encircle the flask......you guessed it - a Jinni is released. The Jinni faces the same challenges as that of the Golem - he has been trapped in the flask for thousands of years. And chance being what it is, these two beings - one of earth and one of fire - meet, and each recognizes that the other is not of this world. Their lives are entwined in ways they could not imagine....and someone else is watching them... Oh, where to start! The setting is beautifully brought to life by Wecker. The lives of immigrants, the wealthy, the tenements, daily life, night life, attractions such as Central Park and more provide a rich and detailed background for Wecker's novel. The Golem and the Jinni are both mythical creatures, but Wecker's writing made them very real and 'human'. I found myself so caught up in their story, rooting for them and hoping they would find happiness. The supporting cast of characters is just as well drawn and equally compelling. This was such a unique and different idea for a novel. Middle Eastern mysticism mixed with Jewish folklore and dipped into New York City's rich history. And under Wecker's skillful pen, it really works. But such is the stuff of magical stories - dastardly villains, good vs. evil, sacrifice, love won and lost, fast friendships and more. And this is the feeling that Helene Wecker's novel gave me - that I was sitting in a beautiful silk tent somewhere in the desert, reclining on pillows and listening to Scheherazade spin one of her 1001 tales. I was enthralled from first page to last. Wecker has truly woven a magical debut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book, and its amazing originality!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading this great novel by Helen Wecker and found myself delighted in the rich and imaginative story telling. A great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy it!
joannegrace More than 1 year ago
This was well written and had a complex plot, and interwoven characters and events - from the past and present. Very interesting, unique story and settings - and though these mainly concerned two non-human beings (a jinni, or genie) and a "golem" - a man-made being/creature - all the human elements were contained in them and the rest of the story. Very captivating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been a long time since I have come across a book that I did not want to stop reading. This is a wondrful story that blends history, mysticism, and romance in a seamless story that crosses the ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this turn of the century fairy tail in the middle of NYC.  All of the characters and circumstances were very interesting and kept me wanting to read more.  I see one reviewer said he found the book confusing, but that might be due to the flashbacks that if you keep on reading tie everything together.  
RooMom More than 1 year ago
Stumbled upon it in the bookstore and so glad I did. Loved it!
Melisan More than 1 year ago
A thoroughly enjoyable read.  Relax, sit back, and enter a different world that exists alongside our reality.
Mz-Bwayne More than 1 year ago
Did not want this book to end!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book may be a bit overlong in places, but the characters are fascinating and timeless. I finished the book early this morning and already wish there were a sequel.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker (thanks to the Devourer of Books) which was really long but surprisingly good! We discussed it over at Devourer of Books, but I’ll give you a quickie overview here.  A golem is created by a rabbi in order to be a wife for a not-so-wonderful man.  Problem?  A golem is inherently bad, and will listen to a master. . . but can still get out of hand. A jinni (much like the genie we think of) is released from a bottle after many years, but still manacled.  Why?  How’d he get like that? Both the golem and the jinni are lucky enough to meet mentors that help guide them on their paths.  But they are both very restless creatures, and when they coincidentally meet each other, their lives change. So even though the book is super long, take a chance on it!  It’s worth the read!   Thanks for reading,   Rebecca @ Love at First Book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful, well-written story.  I found myself truly caring about these characters.
SpeedSD More than 1 year ago
EXCEPTIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!! There are times when writing a review, that I just don't know how I am going to put words down to do a book justice. This is one of those times. This is a wonderfully woven tale of magic and mystery. The author has a way with words that is absolutely amazing! I was pulled into the story from the beginning and it just got better the more I read. As the author introduced each character, I wondered how it would all pull together. Well, let me just say that it pulled together in a way that I am still in awe about. Without giving away the plot (you can read the summary on the back of the book), this is a story of love, magic, mystery, religion, and life in New York in the late 1800s to early 1900s. There is some wonderful history given on the Jewish and Christian communities living in New York at that time. Lots of history on Jewish traditions. The author does this without ever becoming too bogged down with information. I never felt like anything was dragging on. If you love a beautifully told "story", this is it. I will definitely be looking for more from this author. I cannot believe this is her first published work. It is absolutely amazing. Thanx to Ms. Wecker for taking me on this ride. I truely enjoyed myself. :~) -- SPeeD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an amaxing journey. I regret now missing the opportunity to see her at a reading/signing. The book is complex, intimately written, and colorful. I did not feel that any detail, thought, or path was unnecessary to the story. I was satisfied with the ending and its length. I am eager to read her next works and will make sure that I attend her next reading.
bbb57 More than 1 year ago
This is the best Fiction Novel I have read this year. This author has laced together exceptional characters with superb writing. This book is just plain fun to read! Can't wait for a follow up or next novel from Ms. Wacker!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read in a while! Love the mix of turn of the century NYC and these mythical creatures of legend. The book continued to surprise me, which is so refreshing given that most plots can be so predictable. I would love to read more from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I DID NOT WANT THIS NOVEL TO END. This is defintely on my top 5 best books to read. For months I avoided picking up this novel because of the premise of the story. Fantasy, Si-Fi, & Horror are not my genre, at all. However, this book is written so well and let's not forget the story is original, i will definitely purchase this author's next novel. She did a great job. Yes, I truly mean it was an original story. Again - i did not want it to end. It was that good!!
gregs More than 1 year ago
I was caught by the cover! I have been very fortunate over the many years and 100's of books that I have pulled the ink right off the pages. This book did not disappoint me! It was a slight drift from my usual reads but I can't say enough about how the ink & pages have stayed with me. I was so wonderfully pulled into the heartbeat & life of New York city and its enclaves. Ms. Wecker has given us a real gift of a read. I would have loved to be the "Tinsmith".........no more get the book and fall in love with the Golem & the Jinni