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The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni, #1)
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2016 Reads > TGATJ: Thoughts on the Jinni and the Golem (Characters)

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message 1: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (last edited Oct 06, 2016 07:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tassie Dave | 3597 comments Mod
From the "TGATJ: October 2016 Pick: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker" topic

Phil wrote: "I really enjoyed this when I started but I 'm about a third through and seem to have hit a wall where I just don't care anymore. I don't find the Jinni particularly appealing and the Golem has virtually no personality. I'll continue but I'm finding it a bit of a slog.
I keep seeing people compare it to The Night Circus which I also didn't like all that much. I guess "magic realism" isn't my thing.."


Very minor spoilers. Even the ones inside tags. I'm about 60% in.

I agree early on the Jinni (view spoiler) is not a nice person. Which is understandable as he has fallen so far and is used to being on his own and selfishly fulfilling his desires as he wants.
Whereas the Golem (view spoiler) is learning her place in the world.

I found the Jinni becomes a more likeable person (view spoiler)
I always liked the Golem. She is more relatable. She starts out with very little personality, which is understandable, as she is born before our eyes and has to learn the ways of the world.


Trike | 8768 comments So on top of the cultural challenges this is also a May-December romance?

(I don't get my copy until later today, so I didn't read the spoilers.)


message 3: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tassie Dave | 3597 comments Mod
Trike wrote: "So on top of the cultural challenges this is also a May-December romance?

(I don't get my copy until later today, so I didn't read the spoilers.)"


The first 2 spoilers are just their names. The 3rd is minor. Safe to read after you've got past 50%


Kevin | 701 comments Trike wrote: "So on top of the cultural challenges this is also a May-December romance?

(I don't get my copy until later today, so I didn't read the spoilers.)"


It's not really a romance.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments "Why is everyone forgiving this genie so easily?" is a question I asked several times while reading this story. There were a lot of issues raised through his interactions with Sophia in particular that I don't think were ever answered. (view spoiler)


message 6: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (last edited Oct 07, 2016 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tassie Dave | 3597 comments Mod
Brendan wrote: "There were a lot of issues raised through his interactions with Sophia in particular that I don't think were ever answered."

Major spoilers in the next few posts.

(view spoiler)


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments I must have missed that part then with the (view spoiler) I was kind of skipping over some boring bits.


message 8: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tassie Dave | 3597 comments Mod
Brendan wrote: "I must have missed that part then with the [spoilers removed] I was kind of skipping over some boring bits."

(view spoiler)


Elizabeth Morgan (elzbethmrgn) | 277 comments (view spoiler)


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments So I've been thinking and I came up with a literary-paper sorta crazy idea. The jinni, the man of fire, is like an embodied archetype/stereotype of a selfish man. Action, heat, impulsive and selfish. The golem, woman of clay, is the archetype/stereotype of a compliant woman. Obedient, empathic but cold.

Although there is definitely some character development. How much can we rely on the assertion that (view spoiler)?


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2501 comments 50% in and for me this book went downhill after the first couple of chapters. On my scale it's now just 'meh', bordering on 'lem'. I don't find it anything like 'The Night Circus' either. That one I loved and bought several copies as Christmas presents.

I guess I'm in the minority, but is anybody else finding this boring?

At the moment it seems more like a soap opera written around the characters, their jobs and their environment. A good alternative title would be : 'MiddleEastEnders' :)


Charles Cadenhead (thatcharliedude) | 190 comments AndrewP wrote: "50% in and for me this book went downhill after the first couple of chapters. On my scale it's now just 'meh', bordering on 'lem'. I don't find it anything like 'The Night Circus' either. That one ..."
You're not alone. This is the second time I've started this book and I find myself skipping a lot of the exposition about the side characters and the neighborhoods. I want to read more about the two title characters and less about the minor ones.
I'm also finding very little fantasy elements in this story. I'm only about 30% in and so far there's the jinn, the golem and the vignettes about the golem's creation and makers. The majority of the story so far is about life in turn of the century New York in different immigrant communities. I want more fantasy, where are the swashbucklers, the hidden wizard society, the fantastical creatures? :) It been a while since I first pick up this story but if I remember correctly I originally put aside this book because I got bored.


message 13: by Trike (last edited Oct 15, 2016 09:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Trike | 8768 comments I thought the book was terrific.

And to Charles' points, let me just say this: there are almost no minor characters and the fantasy bits really ramp up.

The Fantasy elements are really more along the lines of Urban Fantasy (which makes sense, given the setting), where the magical parts of the world are glimpsed from the corner of one's eye rather than front-and-center as in Secondary World stories.


Trike | 8768 comments Joanna wrote: "So I've been thinking and I came up with a literary-paper sorta crazy idea. The jinni, the man of fire, is like an embodied archetype/stereotype of a selfish man. Action, heat, impulsive and selfis..."

I think that's a pretty accurate reading of it.

As for the spoiler bit:

(view spoiler)


Darren Charles wrote: " I want more fantasy, where are the swashbucklers, the hidden wizard society, the fantastical creatures? :) It been a while since I first pick up this story but if I remember correctly I originally put aside this book because I got bored."

And yet you gave it four stars?


message 16: by Charles (last edited Oct 16, 2016 06:08AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Charles Cadenhead (thatcharliedude) | 190 comments Darren wrote: "And yet you gave it four stars? "

Wait, wha? I haven't rated this story. I'm still trying to read it. I'll go look at Goodreads when I'm done here but I have the feeling that if I did rate it, it was a pebcak error when I added the book to my current reading list. If I was to rate the book now I would give it 2 stars for my enjoyment of the content and 4 for writing style.
Even though I'm not enjoying the story the author is an excellent writer. There seems to be a poetry to her writing style and she doesn't waste words. I want to like this book but I just can't get into it.


Charles Cadenhead (thatcharliedude) | 190 comments Darren wrote: "Charles wrote: "And yet you gave it four stars? "

Yup, there was a rating there. Thanks for letting me know. ;) And it was definitely a pebcak error. The "Currently Reading" dropdown is very close to the book rating radio buttons. I'm not sure why Goodreads didn't space them out more.
This is what I get for trying to update my Goodreads page. I'll just stick to rating books through the Kindle app and not worry about tracking my reading list. I'm not sure why the Kindle app doesn't update the reading list automatically since it does allow for ratings. Seems like an easy thing for Amazon to do and they could even make it an opt-in feature to help diminish privacy concerns.


Kevin | 701 comments Charles wrote: "AndrewP wrote: "50% in and for me this book went downhill after the first couple of chapters. On my scale it's now just 'meh', bordering on 'lem'. I don't find it anything like 'The Night Circus' e..."

Just because a story has swashbuckling or not doesn't make it more or less fantasy, just more or less action oriented. I'm personally a big fan of the diversity of stories one can tell within the fantasy genre.


Charles Cadenhead (thatcharliedude) | 190 comments Kevin wrote: "Just because a story has swashbuckling or not doesn't make it more or less fantasy, just more or less action oriented. I'm personally a big fan of the diversity of stories one can tell within the fantasy genre.
.."


The swashbuckling comment was in jest. I think I'll go add a smiley emote there. But I feel like my point still stands. In the first part of the book there is very little fantasy elements. I feel like this story is an historical novel with the jinn and the golem only added in to be point of view characters.
It sounds like there will be more fanatical elementals later in the story but I'm impatient for it and losing interest in the story.

I guess my complaint illustrates the question of "what is fantasy fiction?" Must a fantasy story have wizards and elves in it or other obvious fantasy tropes or can it still be fantasy fiction with just minor fantasy elements?
I feel that so far there are very little fantasy elementals in the story. If you removed the words "jinn" and "golem" from the book it would be historical fiction instead (yes, I'm stretching my point a little thin there). To me the fantasy in the story seems to be behind the scenes and too subtle for my taste.


Trike | 8768 comments Charles wrote: "I guess my complaint illustrates the question of "what is fantasy fiction?" Must a fantasy story have wizards and elves in it or other obvious fantasy tropes or can it still be fantasy fiction with just minor fantasy elements?"

The short answer is "yes".

A single fantasy element, no matter how minor, turns a story into Fantasy. That may not be to your taste, but it's the only way to accommodate genre definitions so they can be universally applied by anyone.

Fantasy is the literature of the impossible, typically supernatural, inexplicable by science. So by including one of those impossible elements you've shifted the entire story from realistic is fantastical.

The movie Field of Dreams, based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, is a Fantasy, but it only has a single impossible element: the ghosts of baseball players. Everything else about that movie and book takes place in our contemporary world, and the heart of the story is about reconnecting with our past. In Ray's case, it's about reconnecting with his father. But the method for getting there is all the supernatural stuff which causes the inciting incident and leaves clues for him to uncover.

In Cherie Priest's book Maplecroft, the story is about Lizzie Borden, who murdered her parents. Most of the characters and locations are based on real people and places (including the titular manor of Maplecroft), but Priest gives a supernatural twist by saying that the reason Borden killed her parents is because they were possessed by Lovecraftian monsters. (Literally Lovercraft, because some of his stories took place in the same location the real Lizzie Borden lived.) That's the only non-realistic element in the story, but it permeates everything, thus turning it into Fantasy.

The problem many people have with Fantasy is that their definition is too narrow. They think Fantasy is comprised solely of the single subgenre of Epic Fantasy, and specifically books like Lord of the Rings.

That's akin to saying that Science Fiction is only Space Opera stories like Star Trek, which eliminates The Terminator, E.T., The Matrix, The Hunt for Red October, Neuromancer, Island of Dr. Moreau and so many other varieties of SF.

As for TGATJ specifically, the story ultimately doesn't work without the fantasy elements. To me, the story is about whether we can overcome our inherent nature, personified by the golem, the jinni and the wizards. The various magical elements serve to make that message palatable and more interesting. The spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, as it were.


message 21: by Charles (last edited Oct 16, 2016 02:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Charles Cadenhead (thatcharliedude) | 190 comments Trike wrote: "The short answer is "yes".

A single fantasy element, no matter how minor, turns a story into Fantasy. That may not be to your taste, but it's the only way to accommodate genre definitions so they can be universally applied by anyone."


I wouldn’t say that either of your examples are examples of minor elements. In both the stories revolve around the one fanatical element and without that element there wouldn’t be much of a story. And from what I heard about TJATG the fantasy elements are more pronounced later on in the story. Where I am in the story there have been a couple of fantasy teases and then everything else is just historical fiction. I understand the author is setting the stage I’m just getting bored.

I would argue that a story with only minor fantasy elementals is not fantasy. For example if all the characters in “To Kill a Mockingbird” were green and had antennae would that place it under fantasy genre? I don’t think it would.
I understand that the fantasy genre is very broad, I personally think that it’s too broad but that’s a different argument than the one I was making and I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned it. I was just trying to voice my opinion that at the beginning of the story there wasn’t a lot of fantasy in it and because of that I was losing interest in the story.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2501 comments OutlanderOutlander is another good example of a single fantasy element. Outside of the standing stones part, 99.9% of the novel is historical fiction.


Kevin | 701 comments Charles wrote: "Trike wrote: "The short answer is "yes".

A single fantasy element, no matter how minor, turns a story into Fantasy. That may not be to your taste, but it's the only way to accommodate genre defini..."


Just out of curiosity if you replaced all the characters in "To kill a mockingbird" with dragons, changing nothing else, would you then call it fantasy or not?


Darren Genre terminology is there for critical dicsussion and marketing purposes. In and of themselves the terms mean nothing. You could argue that this book is magic realism, but you could probably say the same of Trike's example above, Field of Dreams. And had those ghosts been wicked rather than not, would it have been a horror, not a fantasy?


Darren Kevin wrote: "Just out of curiosity if you replaced all the characters in "To kill a mockingbird" with dragons, changing nothing else, would you then call it fantasy or not?"

No and yes. It becomes more obviously a political allegory, a la Animal Farm. But it still has talking dragons, so it's still a fantasy.

Scout also makes a great dragon name. And so does Atticus Finch, frankly.


message 26: by Phil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Phil | 1152 comments Just finished and I'm afraid it remained at "Meh" level for me. It didn't really work as a character study for me as I didn't really connect with either of the main characters and the story didn't really kick into gear until about 80% in.
The writing was ok but nothing special and there seemed to be too much reliance on coincidence and perfect timing. For example: (view spoiler)


Trike | 8768 comments But that was the point. All of that was the point!


message 28: by Phil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Phil | 1152 comments They were plot points, and just one example of coincidences in the story, but I didn't get the idea that their lives are ruled by coincidence was the point of the whole thing.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments So many unlikely coincidences. (view spoiler)


Trike | 8768 comments There were supernatural forces that led to those apparent coincidences*, but those served to underscore the basic theme of the book, which can be summed up as "can we escape our predetermined fate"?

Must we always be slaves to the roles others set for us, or the roles our basic natures direct us toward? Or can we exhibit free will and make choices which go against what fate dictates?

Seems to me Wecker is using magic to force these people into conflict as a stand-in for the more nebulous idea of fate's guiding hand.

* (view spoiler)


message 31: by Brendan (last edited Oct 17, 2016 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments "It was chance pure and simple that brought Schaalman to the Sheltering House" - Chapter 14.


Matthew (matthewdl) | 341 comments Brendan wrote: ""It was chance pure and simple that brought Schaalman to the Sheltering House" - Chapter 14."

I'm too lazy to look up exactly where it was but I believe Schaalman later expresses the feeling that fate or God is playing some sort of grand game at his expense.

I can see where some people might get frustrated with all the "coincidences" and start to feel that it's a bit of a sloppy plot but I interpretted it a bit like Trike. To me it seemed like there was some sort of fate-gravity pulling them all together and this tied in with the whole predestination vs. free will theme.


Darren A story is a story because the right and usually rare coincidences occurred. When you see someone get hit by lightning, that's a story you'll probably tell a time or two. Listeners aren't going to go, "sorry, that's statistically very unlikely to have happened."

Because of course it is.

No one wants to hear about how you took the bus to work and it was just like yesterday, and the day before. Or how two ancient enemies came to the same city at the same time, but never ran into each other, so never mind.

There's a reason the expression "You won't believe what just happened/who I saw/ what (name) did" is a colloquial way to introduce a story.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Most stories feel more organic than this, it's not every story that gets criticized this way.


Trike | 8768 comments Darren wrote: "Or how two ancient enemies came to the same city at the same time, but never ran into each other, so never mind."

That might actually be pretty funny.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments It was a little too neat and tidy, but I think Wecker did that on purpose. I think that this is a universe where strange calls to strange. Once a character has been exposed to the supernatural, they are more likely to run into it again.


Trike | 8768 comments Cutting-and-pasting my comment from the podcast thread since this is a discussion more likely to be seen in the future...

I would not have guessed that her name is pronounced "hava". I was mentally pronouncing it "shava". That's one advantage of audiobooks.

I hadn't considered Tom's point about it being a discussion or examination of class. That's interesting. Taking that thought one step further, it really underscores the immigrant experience of coming to America, where everyone starts off on more-or-less equal footing when forced to start over from scratch. The baggage of one's previous life is internal, since no one really knows you, and you can reinvent yourself.


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