By – June 2, 2021

In 2013, Weck­er pub­lished her first nov­el, The Golem and the Jin­ni. It was an art­ful, immer­sive blend­ing of styles and tra­di­tions that cen­tered on Cha­va (a golem craft­ed as a mail-order bride) and Ahmad (a jin­ni with a pen­chant for iron­work­ing). At first blush, it might have seemed like a tokenis­tic minor­i­ty answer to mag­i­cal nov­els like Amer­i­can Gods and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecu­liar Chil­dren—Let’s write a his­tor­i­cal super­nat­ur­al dra­ma, but make it about Jews and Mus­lims!” — but, upon read­ing, the sto­ry pulled one in. Not mere­ly that: it made sense. Oh, there was dra­ma, there was romance, there were mag­ic spells and das­tard­ly vil­lains, but all of it exist­ed in ser­vice of a rich, smart sto­ry. The tit­u­lar golem fit. The jin­ni was real. The nov­el side­stepped our expec­ta­tions for both Romeo and Juli­et-type fatal­is­tic romance and for kitschy bagels-and-lox New-World lands­man stories.

Eight years lat­er (in our world), we rejoin Cha­va, Ahmad, and their sup­port­ing cast in The Hid­den Place. In sub­ject, tone, and pac­ing, the nov­el could be com­pared to one of its close cousins in the ancient-mythol­o­gy-meets-mod­ern-Net­flix-cul­ture realm of mag­i­cal real­ism. Leg­endary crea­tures? Check. Peri­od-accu­rate archi­tec­tur­al and loco­mo­tive details? Check. Long and wind­ing sen­tences in almost-but-not-quite Vic­to­ri­an cadence that descend into long, spi­ral­ing para­graphs? Uber-check.

How­ev­er, it’s also a close descen­dant of anoth­er kind of ser­i­al. Every time I pick up Dick­ens, I remem­ber how his works were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in install­ments, how each would end on a cliffhang­er, whip­ping read­ers into a fren­zy that sent them back for the next chap­ter. Wecker’s chap­ters oper­ate on a sim­i­lar lev­el, weav­ing for­ward a grand but slow-mov­ing mas­ter plan through a vast tapes­try of char­ac­ters — from an upper-class daugh­ter of priv­i­lege set afire (both metaphor­i­cal­ly and lit­er­al­ly) by the jinni’s touch; to a teenage West­ern Union mes­sage boy; to a New World golem, cre­at­ed in the wake of the old one, with a dif­fer­ent mis­sion and a sim­i­lar exis­ten­tial cri­sis — teas­ing out a greater pic­ture we don’t see until the novel’s end.

Weck­er doesn’t give her read­ers an easy land­ing in her sequel; lengthy pages of expo­si­tion fill the read­er in with the sev­er­al hun­dred pages of plot they might have missed in the last book. But please don’t be deterred by that. If you missed the first nov­el last time around, take this tes­ti­mo­ny as encour­age­ment to pick up the first vol­ume. And, if you have schooled your­self in the ways of the tit­u­lar mon­sters, then please, please do invite your­selves to this next chap­ter of their existence.

Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs, a pic­ture book, which will be released in June 2013. His young-adult nov­el Losers was just made a spe­cial selec­tion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion. He lives in Brookyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Helene Wecker

  1. The Hid­den Palace begins in 1900 and ends in 1915, as opposed to the sin­gle year that The Golem and the Jin­ni cov­ers in its char­ac­ters’ lives. Why might the author have decid­ed to tell this sto­ry over a longer span?

  2. The pro­logue to The Hid­den Palace describes the famous tale of the Fish­er­man and the Jin­ni from two very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. How does this brief pas­sage relate to the nov­el that fol­lows? Why do you think the author includ­ed it?

  3. A num­ber of char­ac­ters in The Hid­den Palace take on new names dur­ing the course of the book — or, as with Krein­del, they resist hav­ing a new name thrust upon them. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of these dif­fer­ent name changes? What shifts do they reflect in the char­ac­ters’ lives?

  4. Krein­del’s reli­gious upbring­ing puts her deeply at odds with her sur­round­ings at the Asy­lum for Orphaned Hebrews. How might her stay there have been dif­fer­ent if Yos­se­le had not accom­pa­nied her?

  5. In Chap­ter 15, we learn that “[f]or all Toby’s dis­ap­point­ment in West­ern Union, he still believed in the job itself. A mes­sage must reach its des­ti­na­tion.” How did Toby’s ear­ly life pre­pare him for the role of mes­sen­ger boy? Why does he believe in it so strongly?

  6. Jinn do not have friends,” Dima tells Sophia in Chap­ter 14. We may be allies, or ene­mies, or lovers, but not friends.” How does a friend dif­fer from an ally or a lover? What might it say about jinn soci­ety that they have no con­cept of friendship?

  7. The book includes a num­ber of his­tor­i­cal events, such as the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist fire and the sink­ing of the Titan­ic, but we don’t quite see them as they’re hap­pen­ing. Instead, the author describes the after­math, or flash­es back to the event through a char­ac­ter’s thoughts. Why might she have cho­sen to do so?

  8. Mount Qaf, the myth­i­cal home­land of the jinn, is men­tioned sev­er­al times in The Hid­den Palace. What sig­nif­i­cance does the tale have for the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters? Is there any­thing that unites their dif­fer­ent visions of Mount Qaf?

  9. We could have tried hard­er,” Cha­va thinks towards the end of the book when reflect­ing upon her rela­tion­ship with Ahmad. What do you think of Cha­va and Ahmad’s chances as a cou­ple at the end of The Hid­den Palace? Giv­en what they’ve learned, what might a future rela­tion­ship between them look like?


The Hid­den Palace is a glo­ri­ous read. Set in New York City in 1900, it fol­lows the jour­ney of Cha­va (a golem) and Ahmad (a jin­ni) and the chal­lenges of liv­ing among humans with­out call­ing atten­tion to their respec­tive sur­re­al per­son­al beings. This rich­ly told sto­ry takes the read­er into the lives of new immi­grants both Jew­ish and Ara­bic, against the back­drop of the ten­e­ments and sweat­shops of the Low­er East Side to the Hebrew Orphan Asy­lum of New York. The char­ac­ters are diverse and inter­est­ing, and brought ful­ly to life by Wecker’s engag­ing, thought­ful sto­ry­telling. The Hid­den Palace has all the ingre­di­ents of a thor­ough­ly engross­ing and enjoy­able expe­ri­ence for the reader.