The Golem and The Jinni & The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker #BookReview

There are few times where I can genuinely say I’ve been anticipating a book as much as I have the sequel to The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker.

Cover for "The Golem & The Jinni" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Golem & The Jinni” by Helene Wecker

If you remember my 30th birthday post from Instagram, The Golem and The Jinni was a book I mentioned in “The Lost Years” slide.

When my dad was ill, I listened to The Golem and the Ginni as an audiobook. This was the first time I’d ever used an audiobook to read. And it offered me a lot of comfort since it reminded me of being a child and having my parents read me books to fall asleep. Likewise, being able to hear George Guidall narrate Chava and Ahmad’s story added another layer to Wecker’s novel for me.

Wecker’s writing covers the story of these two magical beings’ lives through the lens of immigration and technological advances. Paying particular attention to the importance of community, the author asks the reader to imagine what it must have been like for people to leave all they’d ever known to strike out into the unknown in a foreign land.

While Chava and Ahmad are two magical beings, you can see the difference in how men and women assimilated to their surroundings in each character’s story. This is something that Wecker and I talk more about in the interview I posted with her last week.

"I define community in its broadest sense as a group of people whose interactions are framed around a shared element. You can have communities based on physical proximity, on one’s geographic or cultural origins, on shared life experiences, on something as inconsequential-seeming as a hobby. I think that we all belong to any number of these communities, all of which intersect and layer on top of each other. Our ties to them may wax and wane as our lives change. The problems come in when a person belongs to two or more communities that are antithetical to each other in some way." - Helene Wecker, Author of "The Golem & the Jinni" and "The Hidden Palace
Excerpt from my Helene Wecker Interview

For Chava, a golem created as the bride to a rich Jewish man striking out for a new country, coming to America forces her to venture out of her comfort zone to be independent and tackle her natural ability to provide for others. The jinni, Ahmad, is the total opposite. Having lived for several hundred years in the Syrian desert, he’s awoken in a strange land with no recollection of how he came to be in America and wants nothing to do with humans.

When these two have a chance meeting in the middle of the night in 1900, a series of events are set in motion that the reader could never imagine.

If you’re a lover of books that have a full cast of characters and that is multi-layered, this is a story you’ll love. I highly suggest the audiobook for those who enjoy hearing the voices of characters.

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Cover for "The Hidden Palace" by Helene Wecker
Cover for “The Hidden Palace” by Helene Wecker

Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend Wecker has just come out with the next book in the series, The Hidden Palace, and I highly recommend it. George Guidall is back as the audiobook narrator, and there are more characters and more adventures in this story. I’m excited that Sophie, Ahmad’s human lover, was given a much bigger part to play in the newest book, and Wecker has included two new magical characters.

In this epic sequel, we get to see characters bounce between New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I. If you’re a student of history, you will love getting to see how Chava and Ahmad react to historical events, like the sinking of the Titanic.

Grab your copy of The Hidden Palace today!

My Favorite Books of 2020

For all the chaos of 2020, I had an excellent reading year.

I found myself gravitating more toward fantasy novels and doing a lot more rereading than usual as a means of escaping into “alternate realities” or books that were a comfort to me in my childhood.

Each of the featured books below are ones I loved or feel that I would revisit in the future.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This book was such a joy to read! If you loved reading fairytales as a kid or want to read more fantasy novels, this book is a must read! It’s also a wonderful audiobook.

In a year of chaos and pandemic, Klune’s novel shows the side effects of burnout on people in helping professions. The House in the Cerulean Sea also details how the child welfare system fails children over time. The characters in Klune’s novel are ones that will stay with you long after the book closes.

The Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos

The Mirror Visitor Quartet is such a fun series! If you love audiobooks, I highly recommend this series as a listen as opposed to being physically read! My favorite so far is the second novel in the series, The Missing of Clairdelune.

Initially published in French,  Dabos’ series is full of tomfoolery and shenanigans set around a world built on Classic Western Mythology. The main character of the series, Ophelia, is the odd one out in her family that has the gift of walking through mirrors.

Sent away to the sky palace of Clairdelune to marry Thorn, another outcast from the who has a detailed memory, Ophelia is on her own for the first time to be the person she’s always desired to be. From here, chaos ensues.

Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge

I really enjoyed reading this classic Caribbean novel by Merle Hodge.

Crick Crack, Monkey follows Tee, the main character, as she comes into her identity as a Black Trinidadian girl in a post-colonial nation. The novel was accessible and showed the differences in the class structure in this island nation.

Tee is shuttled between two aunts of varying class and economic levels and made to piece together an identity through her experiences with both. Hodge’s novel was short, but it packed a punch.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed gave me a lot to think about when it comes to education and liberation.

In this text, Freire argues that teachers must open dialogue and facilitate critical thinking around subjects instead of spoonfeeding students lessons to regurgitate. By opening critical discussion around issues, the educator will build stronger learners that can become self-actualized.

Coupled with this, the chapters about how the oppressed seek out liberation blew me away. The idea that everyone can be an oppressor and the oppressed gave me a lot of food for thought. This text is one I hope to revisit in the future.

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

The task of a first or second-generation child of immigrants is to pick up the hopes and dreams of their parents and to carry them over the threshold of success. Often times, it’s not important what that child wants, but more importantly is how they add to the legacy of their family. Thus, these children live within a confined space that is both real and imagined, between cultures that they can never honestly explain until they meet someone else with a similar burden to carry.

Kara’s story in Frying Plantain leads me to wonder, what parts of our cultures do we inherit, and what is learned as people immigrate to new places? Likewise, how does the meaning/practice of culture change as each generation gains new information and comes into contact with new technologies that shift the way that certain traditions are carried out?

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel

The Trouble  With Hating You is a South Asian take on  The Taming of the Shrew with an “enemies to lovers” storyline.

It starts cliched with the main female lead, Liya, a successful biochemical engineer sneaking out on a dinner they put together with the family of Jay Shah, a potential suitor. Unfortunately, Liya bumps into him on the way out, and of course, the two end up being forced to work together as the novel unfolds.

If you are a reader who enjoys multi-layered characters and non-generic romances, this book is for you! Jay and Liya both have a traumatic past, and Patel has each of them work through their trauma before giving them their happy ending. I appreciate that Patel showed the real aspects of trauma in a person’s life and how they play out in interpersonal relationships and across a community.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

If you are in the market for a book that will make you go through all the emotions & you’re not afraid to confront hard issues, this is the one for you!In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the fourth book of the Logan Family Saga, Mildred D. Taylor takes her characters through the beginning of the Depression Era of the American South (circa 1920s to 1930’s) and the Jim Crow Era where the young Black children see the rise of the Klan, lynchings, and the fight to keep their land.

Throughout this series, Taylor has the Logan children fight for their agency as Black people before they really even know what they’re fighting for.  I’ve read this series countless times over the years, but it always hits differently each time. I highly recommend it!

Have you all read any of these books?

#SocialDistancing & Sinophobia: Reading #JohnOkada’s No-No Boy Through a Contemporary Lens

“I think, more than anything, people like to feel superior to others… And when people feel superior, it makes it harder for them to see the problems just beneath the surface. They don’t want to believe them, to face them, because if they did, can they really claim to be superior anymore?”― Rebecca Schaeffer

Japanese Interment Camps
Japanese Internment Camps

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic. It would be nice if this moment of fear made us all more empathetic & understanding of those who differ from ourselves, but to say this, would be a lie. For, there are always people that will take any excuse to succumb to fear. When this happens, xenophobia runs rampant with little prompting.

Seeing the way that Asians Americans have started to be treated after the outbreak of the Coronavirus in America, I am reminded of one of my favorite novels, which is NoNo Boy by John Okada. In John Okada’s 1957 book, “No-No Boy,” the Japanese American protagonist, Ichiro Yamada, & the Japanese community are feared & subsequently sent to internment camps under the guise of “keeping Americans safe.” The pandemonium we’re seeing now where Asian Americans are experiencing an on slaughter of racist attacks is reminiscent of the mass hysteria that took place in America after Pearl Harbor happened during World War II.

In WWII, the choice to confine Japanese citizens into internment camps came after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This Executive Order authorized the removal of all people with Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and communities within the United States. In response to this removal, the court case, Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), was filed to contest the removal of these citizens by Fred Korematsu, 23, a Japanese-American citizen that was arrested for not complying with the order. Korematsu later became a national civil rights hero appealing his case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the U.S. government intelligence agencies had hid key documents from the Court causing Korematsu’s conviction to bee overturned.

Similar to Korematsu, John Okada uses his novel to tell the story of Ichiro, a nisei or second-generation Japanese American man, who gets drafted to serve in WWII. This character resist on the principle of not wanting to renounce his Japanese heritage or his American citizenship. The story progresses from here and readers are able to see WWII through the eyes of a Japanese-American.

Nisei Soldiers in WWII
Nisei Soldiers in WWII

The title of Okada’s book stems from Question 27 of the “loyalty questionnaire.” Okada shows how the act of “othering,” or placing a minority in a position where they feel as if they must choose between their ethnic culture & “American” culture can create a fracturing of the person’s psyche causing emotionally, mentally, & physically duress.

Okada’s novel asks readers, specifically white readers, to place themselves in the role of a minority person and to think, “how would I feel if my existence were seen as a threat?” While this book isn’t about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is about how Asian people are often perceived as a danger to America. Thanks to continued feelings of Yellow Peril, we are now seeing people shroud their fear of getting sick with racist comments & acts toward Asians.

Don’t be that person, be kind!

Purchase a copy of No-No Boy

What to read if you’ve already read No-No Boy

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston