The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.

The Golem and the Djinni

The Golem’s life began in the hold of a steamship.

With some books you don’t want to stop reading and definitely don’t want to reach the end either. This is one of those. With every page you get a brighter image of not just nineteenth century New York city, but of everyone’s pains and motivations, yet always teasing enough to make sure that you continue turning the page.

The story is, indeed, about a golem and a djinni. One is brought to live on a boat trip from the old world (Europe) to the new world. The other is unsure about his past, but has to adjust to a human life in the big immigrant city as well. One of them ends up in Little Syria, the other in the Jewish community.

Both are aliens, to humankind and to the country. Helene Wecker shows city history while braiding mythology and coming of age through it. Her descriptions of the city and its people are beautiful and brutal at the same time, painting a colorful but painful picture.

A simple story, but surrounded by so much beauty and humanity that you can’t put it away.

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker, Blue Door 2013