Verisimilitude. When writing a combination of historical fiction and fantasy, verisimilitude is the key, for both author and audience alike. In this debut novel by Helene Wecker, we are treated to the ethnic neighborhoods of 1899 New York City in a way that makes them feel as close and as familiar as our own homes. The streets are populated with a variety of characters who do so much more than play on the stereotypes. Each one stands on its own as a vibrant individual with a story to tell. And in the middle of all of it… a golem and a jinni, two creatures of myth and legend drawn from the respective folklores of the people who inhabit these neighborhoods, and both with their respective flaws and foibles as they try to get by in a world that would not accept nor understand them. It’s a new twist on the classic “stranger in a strange land” tale.
I first heard about this book on the This Is Audible podcast. I was intrigued by what I heard in the interview, but I let it marinate for a bit before finally putting forth my credit. This is quite easily one of the best credits I’ve ever spent. The story is a slow build, but at no point does it hold back. Wecker is a masterful storyteller, and she knows how to make you want to come back to learn more about her creations. These characters live, as much as you or I or anyone else we might know. The subtle twists and turns are tied together about as perfectly as one could wish, and the end is – to my mind – quite satisfying to the story arcs presented. I’m looking forward to more works of this caliber from Helene Wecker. Her name will not be one I forget.
George Guidall’s narration is wonderful. He adds that little something extra that brings these characters to life, making them that much more endearing… as though they needed any help on that front. His vocals as he changes characters are believable to the point where it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s only one man. This is the first narration of his I’ve heard, and it worked so very well for this story.