The Golem, the Jinni, and the Syrians in New York

“The Golem and the Jinni,” by Helene Wecker was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and won the 2014 Mythopoeic Award.

These two books–one a novel, the other a study of Arab immigrants to Manhattan’s Lower East Side–are a fascinating pair to read in conjunction with each other. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker tells the story of two mythical beings–one Jewish, the other Syrian– which takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York. Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900 by Linda K. Jacobs tells the never-before-told story of the first Arab immigrants to settle in Manhattan.

Both books explore many themes but one that stands out is the tolerance individuals from each community had for the other even as each community–as well as the broader society of Manhattan–struggled with the presence of those they each considered “the Other.” The twists and turns of the novel reflect the twists and turns of historic life for the immigrants who struggled to make new lives for themselves and their families in the New World. (I never quite appreciated how radical the idea of the New World was until I saw The Hunt for Red October (based on Tom Clancy’s book) and heard Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) welcome Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) to the New World after Capt. Ramius quotes Christopher Columbus’ musings that “the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.”)

Too many people seem too eager to demonize a wide variety of “Others” in modern society. Add either–or BOTH!–of these books to your “Want to Read” list and see how we were able to overcome such attempts at demonization in the past while enjoying wonderful storytelling!

Want to know more? Read the Huffington Post article about Strangers in the West or my post about The Golem and the Jinni.

“Strangers in the West” by Linda K. Jacobs tells the story of this classic multiethnic neighborhood which had a dominant Arabic-speaking influence from the 1880s to 1940s, and which served as the “Mother Colony” for the substantial Syrian and Lebanese immigration to the United States.

The Byzantine World of Videssos


Are you looking for an alternate reality or a parallel universe to step into while traveling for Thanksgiving or dealing with difficult family over the holidays? I cannot recommend the Videssos Cycle by Harry turtledove TOO highly! It is excellent!

In The Misplaced Legion, the first of the books, the Roman tribune Marcus Scaurus held the spell-scribed sword of a Druid priest, and the Celtic chieftain Viridovix held a similar sword, bespelled by a rival Druid sorcerer. At the moment they touched, the two found themselves under a strange night sky where no stars were familiar and where Gaul and Rome were unknown. They were in an outpost of the embattled Empire of Videssos–in a world where magic and dark sorcery would test their skill and courage as no Roman legion had ever been tested before.

Readers who know something of Byzantine history will quickly discover that the world of Videssos is closely modeled on the Byzantine Empire familiar to those of us who inhabit THIS reality. Harry Turtledove, himself a Byzantine historian as well as an award winning sci-fi and fantasy author, uses his knowledge of Byzantium to full advantage. Well known friends and enemies, dogmatic disputes, intricate social hierarchies are all recognizable in Videssos. But you do NOT need to know anything of Byzantium to appreciate the wonders and glory of the world Turtledove has created within the covers of these books.

The Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove is a four book series which is now available in two volumes, each volume containing two of the original books. Therefore, the covers are different now as well.

See my post about another Turtledove classic, Thessalonica, here.

A Darker Shade of Magic


Have you felt like you stepped into an alternate reality or a parallel universe these last few days? A Darker Shade of Magic is a quick, easy-to-read tale of alternate realties and parallel universes. Author V. E. Schwab is best known for her YA novels as well as the adult novel Vicious which was of one of Publishers Weekly‘s Best Fantasy Books of 2013. If you need something to read on the subway, an enjoyable distraction from the world in which you currently reside, you could do worse than to spend some time with Schwab and her characters.

In A Darker Shade of Magic, we meet Kell. He is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.