Customer Review

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tales of Immigrants to New York., 11 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Golem and the Djinni (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As the 19th Century turns into the 20th, we follow the passage of immigrants from the old world to the new. Jewish immigrants come from Europe to form commmunities in New York and in parallel we see Syrian immigrants bringing the traditions and cultures of the Bedouin tribes to America.

In themselves, these stories of hardship and struggle are interesting enough to make for a satsifying narrative and the growing communities are vividly depicted with detailed descriptions. However, these threads are tied together by the story of the fantastical elements from these cultures - which can be seen literally as a fantasy novel, or as an allegory for the way that these two groups of people come to terms with living in this new environment.

The back cover mentions Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - but while both are long and detailed fantasies; this book is as far away from that as you can get. Here we are amongst the lively immigrant communities and this is very much a New World story - much more like Neil Gaiman's American Gods. As in that book - the religion and mysticism of the immigrants travel with them.

This gives the author wonderful opportunities to discuss abstract philosphical and moral questions about the nature of existence. Does every being have free will, are they simply the product of their environment or do they have innate qualities? Does the Golem have a soul, does she deserve to be treated as an individual - these questions are universal in their application, but here become bound up with the main characters, with whom we most closely identify.

The Djinni exemplifies mankind's search for meaning in life - all the gifts he possesses mean nothing if he cannot give meaning to what he does. While the Golem is satisfied with honest labour and fitting into a community - the Djinni looks for ultimate meaning in Art and Love, searching for fulfillment as he wanders the city streets. Through his travels we get to build up a picture of New York, which is affectionate, even when describing the worst deprivations.

We get a sense of the different cultures - how they adapt and how they maintain continuity - overall, how they survive. It is only the wealthy and our two main protagonists who have the luxury of questioning everything and this makes for the main drive in the narrative. It's mostly slow progress, but it never drags, as the writing is so evocative and the clash of cultures so interesting. Eventually the pace quickens and there is an exciting climax - but what stays with you, is the image of the city and the meeting of religions and metaphysics.

The writing is very assured and it is hard to believe this is a first novel - it is full of so much experience and shared knowledge. The characters are interesting as they are, but the fantasy elements add to the overall appeal; as these are cultures rarely explored for this aspect. An excellent read and highly recommended - it is long, but rewards your perseverance with numerous ideas and satisfying plotting. I will be looking forward to more from this author.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Aug 2013 18:28:49 BDT
Thanks Bruce, your review pitched me towards trying this on the Vine - I thought it might be wonderful, (by the publisher's comparison's to other books I thoroughly enjoyed) but feared it might be awful (if those comparisons were merely about quirky fantasy, rather than inventive thought and writing) Anyway I am hooked deep by it, about a third of the way in. AND have just bought the Gaiman you linked, having absolutely devoured The Ocean at the End of the Lane

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Aug 2013 19:13:39 BDT
Bruce says:
Nice to hear from you - this was a good pick from Vine and I hope you enjoy the Gaiman - I like most of what he has written and some of it is set in Brighton!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2013 22:41:06 BDT
If its still available on Vine - and even if it isn't Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for The Time Being is stunning (I think its a Last Harvest) - its a Booker Shortlist I think, or possibly longlist, but a great book and I've now bought an earlier novel of hers too.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2013 08:18:20 BDT
Bruce says:
Yes, I just meant, I am glad that I picked it - I shall look out for the Ruth Ozeki - thanks!
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