“Hidden Palace” explores assimilation through fantasy – J.


In 2013, Pleasanton author Helene Wecker published her first novel, “The Golem and the Jinni”, about an unlikely friendship between two magical creatures who meet in New York City in 1899. The book incorporates elements of fantasy , historical fiction and Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature and has won several awards.

It was also a hit with Jewish readers in the Bay Area, according to staff at the Jewish Community Library.

That’s one of the reasons the SF-based library and its parent agency, Jewish LearningWorks, selected “The Hidden Palace” – an eight-year sequel – for the annual One Bay One Book program. Published in June, the novel takes up the story of Chava, a Polish golem, and Ahmad, a Syrian jinn (or genius), in the years leading up to the First World War. Discussions about the books will take place in the library, at local synagogues and online through May.

“There are a lot of big talking points that come up in ‘The Hidden Palace’, including issues of othering and marginalization in Jewish life,” said Noa Albaum, the library’s program coordinator. “The main characters are mythical creatures who must hide their identities and must be careful about how they present themselves in the community.”

Albaum noted that it is not necessary to read “The Golems and the Jinni” to enjoy the sequel, although the library has copies of both books to borrow. Book clubs should reserve copies in advance.

In a positive review of ‘The Hidden Palace,’ Publishers Weekly wrote, “New characters, including another golem and a young Jinniyeh woman, and historic touchstones such as the sinking of the Titanic, drive the plot. While the first installment was a propelling battle of good versus evil, this delightful entry is a more serialized Dickensian storytelling.

We think of people who lived in the past as living in a special way… when the truth is that the past was a kaleidoscope.

Wecker, who will attend an event in person (pandemic permitting) or online on May 22, 2022, told J. she was “very proud and very tickled” that “The Hidden Palace” has been selected for One Bay One Book this year.

“You’ve been working on a book for so long and then it’s published and you sort of know academically that people are reading it because you get sales reports, but mostly right now when so many of my interactions with readers have been reduced, to have this knowledge that locally people are reading it, that makes it a little more real, ”she said.

While “The Golems and the Jinni” dealt with immigration and the “shock of finding yourself in a new place,” Wecker said, “the second book is much more about the assimilation and the slow process of becoming someone. another in a new world and having to decide for yourself what that means to you.

Women’s rights, workers’ rights and health conditions in cities are some of the other issues she addresses and which have contemporary resonances. “We think of people who lived in the past as living in a particular way, or only a small handful of particular ways, when the truth is the past was a kaleidoscope,” she said.

Wecker is currently working on a third installment of the story of Chava and Ahmad. “I hope it doesn’t take me eight years,” she said.

Previous selections for “One Bay One Book” include “The Book of V.” by Anna Solomon, “On Division” by Goldie Goldbloom, “The Plot Against America” ​​by Philip Roth, “A Guide for the Perplexed” by Dara Horn and “Moonglow” by Berkeley resident Michael Chabon.

Hélène Wecker’s “The Hidden Palace” (Harper, 480 pages). Available to borrow from the Jewish Community Library in SF and to purchase from Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley and online retailers.


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