This instant New York Times bestseller and longlist recipient for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal takes place in 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, and follows three unforgettable young women who must act with courage and love to survive.
“[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
“Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman’s exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them, is unflinching; and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience.” —ELIZABETH STROUT, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge
“Alice Hoffman’s new novel will break your heart, and then stitch it back together piece by piece. It’s my new favorite Hoffman book.” —JODI PICOULT, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light
In Berlin, 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. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.
Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.
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.
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The World That We Knew
A story revealing the compassion within us all. The danger of those who will release the ugliness within us all. A word for this time, a caution for our future. A beautiful story.