What are you reading? (Monday 24/52)


I’ve been reading about New York lately: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, now The Golem and the Jinni, and Studio Saint-Ex. 

  • The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

An immigrant tale that combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk mythology, The Golem and the Jinni tells the story of two supernatural creatures who arrive separately in New York in 1899. One is a golem, created out of clay to be her master’s wife—but he dies at sea, leaving her disoriented and overwhelmed as their ship arrives in New York Harbor. The other is a jinni, a being of fire, trapped for a thousand years in a copper flask before a tinsmith in Manhattan’s Little Syria releases him.

Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.

And then, one cold and windy night, their paths happen to meet. From the author’s website, here.

I love the intertwining settings and mythologies of the alternating stories. The New York immigrant communities are fascinating, full of rituals and relationships. The Jinni’s memories paint an arid and beautiful desert, intricate and devastating. And perhaps most interesting, to me, at least:  the golem is created, and so she constantly puzzles over the nature of humanity. Should the other be judged by thoughts or actions? To whom do we owe responsibility? At what point does what one’s nature requires infringe on another’s rights?

  •  Studio Saint-Ex, Ania Szado

Against the backdrop of WWII Manhattan’s glittering French expat community and emerging fashion scene, STUDIO SAINT-EX sets Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—and his work-in-progress, THE LITTLE PRINCE—within a tempestuous triangle that pits the love and ambition of 22-year-old designer Mig Lachapelle against the passions and seductions of Saint-Ex’s fiery estranged wife. From the author’s website, here.

I don’t particularly care for that review, here are a few better:

Studio Saint-Ex is like an ocean undertow: I fell in and could not get out except by gorging on the story as it pulled me toward the final sentence. -Lawrence Hill

Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado is an elegantly alluring and poignant love story. Nuanced, written with intimacy and immediacy, it’s a fascinating account of the evolution of the classic children’s novel The Little Prince framed by the complex relationships of the French writer/war hero Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, his formidably manipulative and fiercely sensual Latin wife, and the young, talented Canadian fashion designer who captivates them both. Spare and beautifully-crafted, the novel vividly evokes the world of fashion design and the French ex-pat community in New York during WWII. In a word: magnifique!–Sandra Gulland

The perspectives in this novel are fascinating. The story is told in retrospect as Mignonne and Consuelo are both trying to get to Expo 67 in Montreal. As they sit in their respective airports, anticipating their first meeting in decades, they each recall the tumultuous year when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was stranded in New York, unable to get clearance to return to an occupied France.

In 1942, Mignonne is struggling to launch a design career in an industry crippled by war-time restrictions on fabric and accessories and a world reeling from the horrors of war. Consuelo, Antoine’s frequently estranged wife, descends on New York to rekindle their tempestuous relationship and take her place at the side of the fêted Saint-Ex.

Currently Reading: 

I’m currently in the midst of a West Wing/ knitting marathon, so I haven’t yet started another book. And I’m not quite sure which way I’m hopping yet–I’m considering a reread of Glen Duncan’s Werewolf books. There’s a connection to be made between the golem’s outsider perspective on humanity and Jake Marlowe’s observations: both are concerned what it means to have a nature at odds with personal and accepted moralities and, more fundamentally, with what it means to be human.

If not that, then perhaps Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I’ve been fascinated by her since reading the truly excellent Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford (her biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay–Savage Beauty–is also excellent.) I don’t know if it’s the train-wreck quality of the dramatics of the Fitzgerald relationship, or the way she seems to embody so clearly a  stereotype (the muse of the great man, the aspiring artist, the mad woman [or the accusation of such], or what… but looking forward to this. Maybe this week, maybe not.

Then again, I’ve been considering a reread of Carole Nelson Douglas’s Irene Adler books, a really excellent series of novels that center on the heroine of the Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia”. In the fashion of Holmes and Watson, Adler, and her companion Penelope, investigate and have adventures in late 19th century London and Europe.

Such good choices on the horizon.

And that’s me–what have you been reading lately?

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