The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni

Written by Helene Wecker
Review by Judith Starkston

With The Hidden Palace, the follow-up to her historical fantasy The Golem and the Jinni, Wecker returns with a layered novel of many complex characters, including even richer developments of the golem Chava and the jinni Ahmad. These two near-immortal creatures must hide their true natures while trying to avoid causing further harm to the human beings whose lives they irreparably altered in the first book.

Wecker portrays the Syrian and Jewish immigrant communities of early 1900s New York with astute detail. On the level of theme, she explores what gives life purpose, and how relationships can build honest connections that surmount both great differences and uncomfortable similarities. These ideas are most evident in the bond between the golem, whose nature is empathetic and drawn to serve others, and the jinni, whose nature is fiery, temperamental, and unable to express care for anyone.

One of Wecker’s great successes in The Hidden Palace is her depiction of the convincingly childlike but intelligent Kreindel, a girl whose tough exterior hides deep wounds. That she hides a protective but lethal golem in a basement adds magical realism to a deeply affecting portrayal. Early on, when Kreindel’s rabbi father grows secretive, Wecker narrates: “What are you doing in there, another child might have asked, or even Why don’t you talk to me anymore? But Kreindel was trained in her own ways, and she knew that one couldn’t solve a mystery by merely asking questions.”

Both a second golem and a female jinni enter the plot, neither of whom have learned the hard lessons that Chava and Ahmad have. To keep their worlds safe, Chava and Ahmad must access both their greatest supernatural powers and their deepest human impulses.