June 18, 2021

The Hidden Palace

The Hidden Palace

by Helene Wecker

Published June 8, 2021
by Harper

Rating: 5 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy & Magical Realism

From the Publisher:

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, able to hear the thoughts and longings of the people around her and compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a perpetually restless and free-spirited creature of fire, imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and pretend to be human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Having encountered each other under calamitous circumstances, Chava and Ahmad’s lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other. 

Each has unwittingly affected the humans around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.

Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?

My thoughts:

WOW is all I can say! I’ve been waiting for so long for this sequel to The Golem and The Jinni (along with many other readers) and it’s finally here. Thanks to the Jewish Book Council, I got a preview of the beginning of the book, but read the whole thing as soon as it was published. And it did not disappoint. There is, naturally, further development of the two main characters (Chava, the golem, and Ahmad, the jinni) along with some other returning favorites such as Anna, Arbeely, Maryam and Sophia. There are also some new intriguing characters, Toby and Kreindel, along with a couple of surprises that I wish the publisher didn’t give away in its description of the book.

For anyone who hasn’t read the first book, the author, Helene Wecker, does a good job of bringing people up to speed on the background, but of course, as with most series/sequels, you get a richer experience if you’ve read the first book. The setting is early 20th century New York City and what was then part of the Ottoman Empire but is generally referred to now as Syria. Urban fantasy is what I might call these books, with our not-humans (Jewish-based legend of the golem and Arab-based legend of the jinni) living among ordinary citizens. Wecker has really done her research and the book is filled with folklore and wonderful descriptions of early 20th century NYC, including the construction of the still-mourned Penn Station, and several historical events that impact the plot. There are a lot of different threads in this book, but Wecker brings it all together beautifully.

A must-read, in my opinion.