The Hidden Palace
The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni
By Helene Wecker (Harper)
As readers plunge into Helene Wecker’s rich follow-up to her 2013 debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, which won Hadassah Magazine’s Harold U. Ribalow Prize, they may ask themselves whether the writer has crafted a work of fantasy, historical fiction, modern-day mythology or even romance. One of the delights of The Hidden Palace is that the book traverses many genres as it continues the tale of the unlikely friendship between Chava Levy, a golem, a creature of Jewish kabbalistic folklore brought to life through earthen materials, and Ahmad al-Hadid, a jinni, an Arab and Muslim supernatural being made of fire and air that can take human or animal form.
Set mostly in New York City in the early years of the 20th century and told in serial form, the novel is at its strongest when it touches upon the dislocation of many of its characters, for the most part Jewish and Christian Syrian immigrants who strive to make a go of it in the New World. Will they cling to their religious traditions? Will they learn English or continue to speak in their native tongues? To what extent will they make accommodations, perhaps subsume their identities, to fit into American society? These and other crucial questions are thoughtfully addressed in Wecker’s deft hands. The golem and the jinni are perhaps avatars of many of our forebears, who struggled with all they had lost—families and communities left behind—as they set sail over turbulent waters to make better lives for themselves and their children.
History buffs with a particular interest in turn-of-the-century New York City will appreciate Wecker’s detailed descriptions of the city’s “constant newness, its own unending cycle of reinvention”: the building of the various subway lines, the opening of the original Penn Station, the construction of the Manhattan
Bridge and neighborhoods and institutions of yesteryear, such as Little Syria and the Asylum for Orphaned Hebrews.
The Hidden Palace is a gem deserving of wide readership.
Robert Nagler Miller writes frequently about the arts, literature and Jewish themes from his home in Chicago.