Mini Book Reviews: l'Engle and Wecker

Busy, busy!

Work is busy, and I've also been forging ahead on edits. Got some great feedback for the new short story, which has me thinking of ways to raise the stakes (the storywriting feature I always struggle with).

I've also plunged in on work on my list of French and Swiss and Scots phrases that I need for The Charm of Time, thanks to a couple of colleagues and to Hilary!

Cross-posting to the knitting blog, though I haven't done anything on that front yet except choose a pattern for the baby blanket I'd like to knit for a colleague expecting a grandchild... Wonder what colours I should use...

In the meantime, I've read two really good books, one old and one new.

The former is And Both Were Young by Madeleine l'Engle.

Philippa -- Flip -- feels like a prisoner when she first arrives at boarding school in Switzerland; her days are strictly scheduled and she never has a minute to herself. She's constantly surrounded by girls who never stop talking about clothes and boys, making Flip feel lonely, clumsy, and awkward. Then she finds a true friend in Paul. He understands her in a way that no one at school does, and she breaks the rules to spend time with him. But as the two become closer, Flip learns that Paul has a mystery in his past. To help him discover the truth, she must put herself in serious danger.

This new edition of one of Madeleine L'Engle's earliest works features an introduction by the author's granddaughter, the writer Léna Roy.

It's odd that as much as I love l'Engle's writing, I've actually read only a handful of her books. I looked up her bibliography after rereading the Time Trilogy last month, and was pleasantly surprised to find this semi-autobiographical novel, set in Switzerland!

The blurb really doesn't do the story justice. It's so vibrant, and the characters are so real. It's also got a tinge of World War II-related mystery and depth, which made me appreciate it all the more. L'Engle is a master at setting her stories in such specific times and places that they become absolutely timeless.

Usually I'm all for reading the original version of a book, without subsequent alterations, but in this case, the changes were made by l'Engle herself, to restore text that had been considered too scandalous when the book was first published in 1949 (i.e. the girl and boy share a kiss. Imagine!). If you read it, get the 1983 version!

The latter, the new book, is The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, The Golem and the Jinni tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. One is a golem, created out of clay to be her master’s wife -- but he dies at sea, leaving her disoriented and overwhelmed as their ship arrives in New York Harbor. The other is a jinni, a being of fire, trapped for a thousand years in a copper flask before a tinsmith in Manhattan’s Little Syria releases him.

Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.

And then, one cold and windy night, their paths happen to meet.

In short, if I could write fantasy -- and since I could never equal Tolkien -- this is what I'd want to write. It's got elements of magic, of history, of the passing of time, of deserts and New York City landscapes, of myths and legends and faith. All woven together in a smoothly flowing story that keeps you invested in all the myriad characters.

For once, I was glad to be reading on the Kindle app. If I'd been reading the paperback, I would have stayed up all night and finished the book all at once. Having it on my phone was more distracting, and forced me to read more slowly. But I'm not sure if I absorbed or internalised it in the same way. If I see it at the next library book sale, I'll definitely pick up a copy.

And maybe I'll reread it sometime next year -- before the sequel is out! I was very excited to look up the author as soon as I'd finished the book and find out that she's busy writing the sequel. Hopefully there'll be a book tour that comes to Switzerland...

What books or stories have you read lately that you'd recommend?


I loved A Wrinkle in Time, but I've never heard of And Both Were Young. I'll have to check it out.

The Golem and the Jinni sounds really interesting too. I'm going to pick that up.

Yay for the great feedback! I hear you on raising stakes. That's challenging for me too. Good luck. :)
Hi Deniz - thanks for the shout out re dialect phrases ... glad I can be of help - wish languages were a part of me - but they're not. Fascinating books you've chosen to let us have sight of ... now I'd like to read them - particularly Golem and the Jinni ... cheers - Hilary
S.P. Bowers said…
Love, love, love The Golem and the Jinni. Great book. I'm excited to hear there will be a sequel.
I like fantasy - I'll have to check out the second book.
A Wrinkle in Time, a most unusual book, and thanks for introducing me to so many other stories.
Jemi Fraser said…
I haven't read either yet - but they both sound terrific.
I've recently finished up one by Cate Beauman and another by Julie Ann Walker - both were great!
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks for coming by, all!

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