Thursday, February 13, 2014

SHS Book Club--My two favorite books of 2013

I'm still catching up with books I read last year. I'm lumping two books together in this post because they were my absolute favorite. The first is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. There are no words. This is a beautifully, touching book. The setting is Alaska, 1920. The main characters, Jack and Mabel are a childless couple who make their home in the brutal Alaska wilderness. The Snow Child story is inspired by a Russian folktale in which an elderly childless couple make a snow child that comes to life.

A lot of reviewers have commented that the beginning of this book is slow moving. I didn't notice that at all but mostly because it kept my attention and was so beautifully written that I was captivated. Having been to Alaska, I loved the imagery this author created. It's amazing to me that this is Ivey's debut novel. What an incredible first book! I felt emotionally tied to the characters and was invested in their outcome. Without giving too much away, there are some really touching parts that might even make you cry.

I'm not sure what this book is classified as--adult or young adult or fantasy. I wouldn't normally pick up a book based on a folktale but I'm so glad I did! After turning the last page, I put the book down and thought that it was one of the best books I've ever read. It was super satisfying.

My second favorite book of 2013 was also somewhat in the "fantasy" realm. It is called The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay but who was brought to life by a rabbi using magic. Chava looks and operates as a human being. She has the special ability to read people's thoughts. She arrives in New York in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni (genie) who is trapped in a copper flask and released by a tinsman in New York City in the same timeframe. The story takes you through their individual stories until they eventually intertwine. It is really hard for me to describe this "fairytale" and do it justice without giving the plot away. But I want so badly to express the reason you should read this book. Though it sounds fantastical and strange, the tale that Wecker weaves through these two characters is not only beautiful but leads you to examine the deeper meaning of the book, of life.

I read that it took seven years for Wecker to write this book. This was her debut novel as well. I can't believe my two favorite books of 2013 were written by new authors! She did a tremendous amount of research before she tackled the writing. It's obvious that she did the work. I was able to envision New York in the early 1900s as if I was walking the streets myself.

Chava and Ahmad became very real and tangible to me while reading this book. I found myself Googling terms like "golem" and "jinni" just to learn even more about the historical background of these fantasy creatures. I knew that genies were of middle eastern folklore. I didn't know much about golems but they are of Jewish folklore. A golem reference even appears in the Bible--Psalm 139 when God uses the word golem and in translation refers to our "unshapen forms."

Anyway, give this book a chance. Don't let the unusual plotline deter you. It's rated 4+ stars on Goodreads.com for a good reason. I was so hesitant to pick it up but then kept reading the reviews and I'm so glad I did. Not once did I ever consider giving up on the book as I had fears I would. I found myself excited to press on and find out how things end for Chava and Ahmad.

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