Review of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

SFFaudio Review

Book Cover for The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker; Read by George Guidall
Audible Download – 19 Hours 43 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / Magical Realism / Contemporary Fantasy / Judaism / Immigration / Reincarnation

Every year brings new books. Some are sequels, new entries in beloved series, like favorite vacation spots we return to again and again. Others are new works by a proven author, a trusted tour guide taking us to someplace new. Still others are entirely new works by unknown authors who have received praise from the critics or the publisher’s marketing juggernaut, like learning that Costa Rica is the new cool place to visit. But every now and then, I stumble upon a new novel completely by chance, as if turning down the wrong alley in a crowded city and finding a new gem. Last year that novel was Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookshop. This year, it’s Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni.

Let’s start with the official blurb:

Helene Wecker’s dazzling debut novel tells the story of two supernatural creatures who appear mysteriously in 1899 New York. Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York Harbor. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

But a bit of cover copy can’t begin to capture the wonder of Wecker’s world. In theme and tone the novel sits squarely between contemporary fantasy in the vein of American Gods on the one hand and the subtle magical realism of books like Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude on the other. The scope is too intimate and the characters’ aims too prosaic for the novel to fall in line with contemporary or urban fantasy. Yet it’s also too relentlessly magical to keep company with literary fiction only spiced sparingly with magic. I say it sits between these two genres, but in another way it encompasses both at once. It’s both an incredibly human story and an entirely alien one. Yet the human and the mythical coexist comfortably on the streets of 19th-century New York City: they flirt, they fight, they even fall in love.

When I read the synopsis and the novel’s first few chapters, I was afraid The Golem and the Jinni would devolve into a thinly veiled commentary on the plight of New World immigrants or, worse, an anachronistic attack on Middle East cultures clashing in the United States. Fortunately, Wecker indulges in the former only sparingly and the latter not at all. Like most good literature, the book describes rather than proscribes. The poverty of the Jewish Quarter and Little Syria alike, where the respective mythical creatures take up residence, speaks for itself. Historical context and modern analogues are there to find if you dig for them, but ultimately Wecker is telling a story, a story of two beings entirely different in nature, one of Earth and one of Fire, who meet in the unlikeliest of places.

And yes, they do meet, but not until many hours into the audiobook. The novel takes a leisurely pace, but that doesn’t make it any less irresistably compeling. The narrative strikes that perfect balance between plot and characterization, both feeding off of and into one another. With a novel of this length there are the inevitable brief dry spells, but in those rare cases the strength of Wecker’s prose and the beauty of the world she has conjured carry the listener through. The book’s final chapters also felt a bit hurried, as endings often tend to be, but a lovely epilogue allows the listener to linger in the world a little longer and say goodbye to its charming cast of characters, human and otherwise.

I mentioned American Gods earlier, and it’s difficult not to think of Neil Gaiman’s masterwork when reading The Golem and the Jinni, since both novels tell the story of what happens when profoundly magical beings come to this profoundly un-magical land of America. As an audiobook listener, the similarities were all the more difficult to ignore because George Guidall lends his considerable voice talent to both works. His unhurried, understated narration fits the novel’s tone perfectly, and his voice moves mercurially from the demure speech of Chava the Golem to the taut clip of Ahmad the Jinni. It’s hard to imagine a better narrator for bringing this story to life.

I deeply hope this is but the first of many wondrous works to issue forth from the pen, or keyboard, of Helene Wecker. Rarely does a book’s world or characters captivate me so completely. If you’re looking for the next great work of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, or just plain old fiction, look no further.

Posted by Seth Wilson

The Mark Time and Ogle Award winners for 2013

SFFaudio News

The Mark Time AwardJerry Stearns, the coordinator for the The Mark Time Awards and Ogle Awards, writes in with this list of the winners for 2013 (the presentations will take place on July 4, 213 at CONvergence in Bloomington, MN):

Mark Time Award:

GOLD:
The Truth: The Modern Prometheus
The Truth
Written by Greg Kotis
Producer, Jonathan Mitchell
New York, NY
thetruthapm.com

SILVER:
Titanium Rain, Episode One
Audiocomics
Written by Josh Finney
Pacific Grove, CA
Audiocomicscompany.com

&

Our Fair City, Season 3
HartLife NFP
Clayton Faits, Head Writer
Jeffrey Gardner, Executive Producer
Chicago IL
OurFairCity.com

Ogle Award:

GOLD:
The Will of the Woods
Audio Epics
Written & Produced by Domien De Groot
Deurne, Belgium
audio-epics.com

SILVER:
The Truth: In Good Hands
Written by Louis Kornfeld & Jonathan Mitchell
Producer, Jonathan Mitchell
New York, NY
thetruthapm.com

&

The Truth: That’s Democracy
Written by Louis Kornfeld & The Truth
Producer, Jonathan Mitchell
New York, NY
thetruthapm.com

And, 15 year retrospective of the Mark Time and Ogle Awards at NATF’s HEAR Now Festival in Kansas City on June 21-23, 213.

About the HEAR Now Festival:

HEAR Now: The Audio Fiction and Arts Festival is the audio equivalent of a film festival for contemporary audio storytelling in all its forms: live and scripted solo performances, multi-voiced, classic radio drama, experimental narrative, and much more. This four-day Festival, running June 20th – 23rd, 2013, in Kansas City, MO, will offer programs, showcasing the many forms of audio fiction and sound art storytelling, in theaters and other “listening” venues.

The 2013 HEAR Now Festival will be a gathering place where the work of master storytellers is celebrated and shared, presenting programs that exemplify traditions of craftsmanship, as well as aesthetic and technological innovation.

Audio drama, audiobooks, recorded, and live performances will be heard in local theaters and other venues all conveniently located in the “Country Club Plaza District” of Kansas City. HEAR Now will offer moderated discussions and panels along with a performance workshop culminating in a live showcase performance event.

For more information about CONvergence: www.convergence-con.org
For more about the Mark Time Awards: greatnorthernaudio.com/MarkTime/MarkTime.html

[via Jerry Stearns]

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC Audiobooks America: Fashionably Undead by Meg Cabot and the Twitterverse

SFFaudio Online Audio

Here’s another collaboratively constructed audiobook, following on the heels of Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry. It’s short, free, and full of zombies.

BBC AUDIOBOOKS AMERICA - Fashionably Undead by Meg Cabot and the TwitterverseFashionably Undead
By Meg Cabot and the Twitterverse; Read by Sarah Drew
9 MP3 Files – Approx. 1 Hour 22 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Published: May 2010
New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot and more than 50 fiction lovers joined forces on Twitter.com to spin a hilarious tale of haute couture and horror. Carly, an unassuming receptionist at Guru Fashion Agency, is shocked when sexy new guy Jake texts her to say he needs her help—fighting off zombie models! Soon she discovers New York is under siege and she’s the chosen one who can save them all. With the help of her sassy, donut-loving deskmate Joyce and the intriguing Jake, Carly embarks on a death-defying adventure that leads to a Fashion Week showdown with the Queen of the Zombies, one of the industry’s biggest icons. It just might be the strangest first date she’s ever had.

Chapter 1 |MP3| Chapter 2 |MP3| Chapter 3 |MP3| Chapter 4 |MP3| Chapter 5 |MP3| Chapter 6 |MP3|
Chapter 7 |MP3| Chapter 8 |MP3| Chapter 9 |MP3|

[via AudiobookDJ]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Lawrence Block talking about Donald E. Westlake

Aural Noir: News

Lawrence Block talks to a crowd of eager fans about Donald E. Westlake at The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC. Block discussed his friend’s career, the upcoming release of Westlake’s lost novel Memory and their collaborations together.

Subterranean Press states that it will be re-publishing this trio of Westlake/Block collaborative novels novels — Sin Hellcat, So Willing, and A Girl Called Honey — under the overall title of Hellcats and Honey Girls.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Recent Arrivals: The Complete Ripley Radio Mysteries and Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin

SFFaudio Recent Arrivals

They are still “recent arrivals” when I borrow them from my local public library right?

Yeah, I thought so.

BBC Audio - The Complete Ripley Radio Mysteries based on the novels of Patricia HighsmithThe Complete Ripley Radio Mysteries
Based on the novels by Patricia Highsmith; Performed by a full cast
4 CDs – Approx. 5 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Publisher: BBC Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781408409473
Ian Hart stars in these BBC Radio 4 dramatisations of Patricia Highsmith’s five Ripley novels. Tom Ripley detests murder unless it is absolutely necessary. He prefers someone else to do the dirty work. But if he’s called on to act there is no one more cool, calculating and clever. In these dramatisations, BBC Radio 4 brings all Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels together in one thrilling series. In The Talented Mr Ripley, Tom makes a bid for another man’s inheritance and succeeds, but has he really got away with it? Ripley Under Ground is set a few years later, when Tom is living in luxury in a French chateau with his beautiful wife Heloise – but the clever art forgery which funds Tom’s expensive tastes is about to be uncovered. In Ripley’s Game,Tom sets up a man he dislikes to carry out two perfect murders, while in The Boy Who Followed Ripley, a rich young stalker arrives at Belle Ombre and he and Tom end up fighting for their lives. Finally, in Ripley Under Water, strange new neighbours show an overdeveloped interest in Ripley’s past. Will Tom’s shady dealings be exposed? Tense, thrilling and atmospheric, these dramatisations are perfect evocations of Highsmith’s unique, complex and brilliantly twisted crime novels.

Recorded Books  - Catwings by Ursula K. Le GuinCatwings
By Ursula K. Le Guin; Read by Ursula K. Le Guin
1 CD – Approx. 30 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: September 2008
ISBN: 9781428174375
Le Guin wrote this highly acclaimed novel about a very special litter of kittens. Mrs. Jane Tabby has always longed to get away from the cramped alleys of the city. She knows it is too late for her, but she thinks her longing may be the reason her litter of kittens was born with wings. When they are old enough to fly, she sends the four kittens, who become known as catwings, out into the world to find their home. But they find that danger does not lurk only in city alleyways.

Posted by Jesse Willis

CBC + RR.cc: Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe EXCELLENT RADIO DRAMA from 1982

Aural Noir: Online Audio

RadioArchives.ccIn 1982 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a fantastic 13-episode radio series:

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe

It stared Mavor Moore (as Nero Wolfe), Don Francks (as Archie Goodwin), Cec Linder (as Inspector Cramer), Frank Perry (as Fritz), and Alfie Scott (as Saul Panzer).

“It took [Toronto actor and producer] Ron Hartmann two years to adapt, direct and produce the 13 episodes for radio,” reported the Globe and Mail. “Ron and I are ardent Nero Wolfe fans, and we’re out to convert the listener,” Moore said.

The series was released on cassette by Durkin Hayes Audio (aka DH Audio) in the late 1990s. But DH is out of business, the cassettes out of print, and the CBC hasn’t licensed any replacements.

What’s a serious Wolfe fan to do?

Well, he can do do a search on RadioArchive.cc! It’s the premier place to find publicly funded programming, and it just now happens to have a new collection of old-off air recordings!

CBC Radio  - Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe

Episodes:

Episode 01 – Disguise For Murder
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: January 16, 1982
When Wolfe hosts a flower showing, a women is killed by someone she recognizes — but who?
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Layly Cado, Jack Krely, Neil Monroe, Eric Peterson, Fiona Reed
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 02 – Before I Die
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: January 23, 1982
A mob boss wants Wolfe to stop a blackmailer, and protect his daughter — who then dies.
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Jane Eastwood, August Shellenburg, Maria Loma
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 03 – Counterfeit for Murder
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: January 30, 1982
An old woman gives Archie a package — containing lots of counterfeit bucks.
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Joy Coghill, Brent Craver, Gilly Fenic, Lynn Griffin, Sandy Webster
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 04 – The Cop Killer
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: February 6, 1982
Wolfe’s barber is on the run for murder — and Archie hides them in the front room!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Jackie Buroughs, Brian George, Arch MacDonald
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 05 – Christmas Party
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: February 13, 1982
Archie, Wolfe and Santa are all under suspicion when a man dies at a Christmas party!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Marty Meriden, Linda Sorenson, Patricia Hamilton
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 06 – Cordially Invited To Meet Death
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: February 20, 1982
A prominent woman is blackmailed — then murdered — while Archie is standing beside her!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Barbra Hamilton, Terry Tweed, Lynn Deigon, Ken James, Tom Harvey
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 07 – Man Alive
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: February 27, 1982
An heiress’s uncle returns to life — and then dies at her office!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Lynn Griffin, Neil Monroe, Sandy Webster, August Shellenburg
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 08 – Instead of Evidence
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: March 6, 1982
A man hires Wolfe to provide evidence if he is murdered — and then he is!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Laly Cadoe, Sean Sullivan, Eric Peterson, Martha Gibson

Episode 09 – Eney Meeny Murder Mo
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: March 13, 1982
When Wolfe’s necktie is used to kill a potential client visiting his home, he is outraged!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Charmin King, Bud Knapp, Aileen Seaton, Neil Monroe
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 10 – The Squirt And The Monkey
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: March 20, 1982
A comic artist hires Wolfe to find his stolen gun – but who uses it to kill his assistant — or is it Archie’s gun?
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Jack Krealy, Patricia Collins, Sheri Flet, David Hemlin
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 11 – The Next Witness
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: March 27, 1982
Wolfe can’t stand waiting at a trial — so he leaves to solve the murder!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Dixie Settle, Terry Tweed, Michael Christy
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 12 – Death Of A Demon
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: April 3, 1982
A women confesses a would-be murder plot, then finds out her husband — the would-be target is dead!
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Mary Peery, Bud Knapp, Patricia Hamilton, Meana E. Meana, Helen Hughs
Music by: Don Gillis

Episode 13 – Murder is No Joke
Based on a story by Rex Stout; Adapted by Ron Hartman; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 55 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBC Radio
Broadcast: April 10, 1982
Wolfe and Archie hear a murder on the phone — but if it’s real, can they solve it?
Stars: Mavor Moore, Don Francks, Cec Linder, Frank Perry, Alfie Scott
Special Guest Stars: Joy Coghill, Vivian Reese, Noni Griffin, Richard Monet, Murry Westgate
Music by: Don Gillis

[with props to the Wikipedia entry]

Posted by Jesse Willis

P.S. There’s another CBC radio drama that’s been languishing unlisted to, but there’s no chance anybody’s going to get to hear it ever as it HAS NEVER BEEN BROADCAST!