NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
On the brink of World War II, with the Nazis tightening their grip on Berlin, a mother’s act of courage and love offers her daughter a chance of survival.
“[A] hymn to the power of resistance, perseverance, and enduring love in dark times…gravely beautiful…Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Her desperation leads her to Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi whose years spent eavesdropping on her father enables her to create a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Hanni’s daughter, Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.
What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never-ending.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Yes, there are a lot of books about ordinary people weathering the daily horrors of World War II Europe. But we’ve never read a story quite like The World That We Knew, a magical and heart-spearing concoction that cast a spell on us. Set mostly in Vichy France, Alice Hoffman’s novel unfurls in short, gripping chapters, introducing a web of strong characters living on the knife edge. Amid realistic suspense and calamity, the Practical Magic author weaves in scenes like a rabbi’s daughter conjuring a clay golem to protect a frantic mother’s teenage daughter from harm and that not-quite-human protector’s love affair with a regal heron. By pulling in such otherworldly elements, Hoffman succeeds in giving us a sense of how disorienting it must have been to live through that dark historical moment.
Set in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944, Hoffman's latest (after The Rules of Magic) is a bittersweet parable about the costs of survival and the behaviors that define humanity. The narrative follows several groups of characters: teenage Julien L vi and his older brother, Victor, whose family is murdered by the Nazis; Ettie, a rabbi's daughter, who with Victor and Marianne, the L vis' former (Protestant) housekeeper, become members of the Resistance; and Lea Kohn, a schoolgirl fleeing Berlin with her "cousin" Ava. Unbeknownst to most of the characters, Ava is actually a golem a soulless supernatural protector out of Jewish folklore and her interactions with them and the ways in which she touches their lives serve as touchstones for Hoffman's reflections on the power of love to redeem and the challenges of achieving humanity, or retaining it, under such challenging circumstances. Though coincidence governs much of the meeting and team-ups of her characters, Hoffman mitigates any implausibility through the fairy tale quality of Ava's involvement and her supernatural powers of salvation. The attention to the harsh historical facts makes the reader care all the more strongly about the fates of all of the characters. Hoffman offers a sober appraisal of the Holocaust and the tragedies and triumphs of those who endured its atrocities.
A story of love, life, and death. And, bravery. It challenges what we think we know about religion.
Be still my heart
I wish I could give this book more than five stars. It was written with magic. Every character had value that touched me. I’m not going to talk in depth about the book. Just….Read it.
I read a lot of historical fiction and many times the books can feel similar. This book was really unique and beautiful in its storytelling approach to such a terrible time in our world history.