This is a European classic. I can't remember how I discovered Meyrink, but I'm glad I did. I might have spotted it in the 'other customers also bought' section on Amazon, when I bought Dracula.
Gustav Meyrink, the pseuodonym of Gustav Meyer, was born in Austria, 19th January 1868. Illegitimate son of Baron Karl von Varnbuler von und zu Hemmingen, and Maria Wilhelmina Adelheyd Meier, an actress. In 1883, he moved with his mother, to Prague, a place that was to feature in many of his works. Prague was also home to his contemporary, Franz Kafka.
The turning point in his life, and one that was to influence his writing, occurred in 1892, aged 24. Meyrink was about to shoot himself when he was distracted by scratching. A booklet entitled Afterlife was pushed under the door.
'THE MOST RESPECTED GERMAN LANGUAGE WRITER
IN THE FIELD OF SUPERNATURAL FICTION.'
Following this 'coincidence,' Meyrink studied the occult, theosophy, Kabbala, Christian Sophiology, Eastern mysticism. He also practised yoga and later in life became a Buddhist, before his death 4th August 1932.
In the first decade of 1900's Meyrink married and started his family. He also began his writing career, first publishing satirical short stories for magazines, and in 1903, his first compilation, The Hot Soldier and Other Stories. Others followed. Additionally, he worked as a translator to earn extra money. In five years he was able to translate into German, fifteen volumes of Charles Dickens, as well as Rudyard Kipling, Lafcadio Hearn, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
In 1915, Meyrink's first novel, and most famous - The Golem- was published. It was written in German and widely translated. It is based on Jewish legend, that tells of a Rabbi creating a creature out of clay, the golem, who is given a Kabbalistic spell to animate it.
The MC, Athanasius Pernath lives in the Prague ghetto, and works as a jeweler. The story begins with the narrator assuming the character of Pernath when his hat is mistakenly swapped. Throughout the gothic fantasy, the reader wonders if Pernath is caught up in a dream world (hallucinating), or if he is turning into the Golem.
Having been to Prague, I can clearly envision the ghetto and the feeling of bleakness, wandering the cobbled streets. Meyrink sets the scene so well. It's a gothic supernatural story with great characters. I wanted to know their story and empathised with their plight. The Golem, always lurking, is not physically present throughout, but you sense him in the periphery, enticing you to read on.
If you've read and enjoyed Bram Stoker's Dracula, you'll find this just as riveting.
I'm looking forward to reading the other two Meyrink novels in my classics list: The Green Face and The Angel of the West Window.