The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman


cover161184-mediumFrom the Publisher: In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive. 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 to Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, then to a convent in western France known for its silver roses, then to 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, waiting to avenge her little sister.

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.

I have started to write this review about 10 times and simply cannot express the blend of tragedy and joy you will find in this book. Hoffman has taken the horrifying historical context of the Holocaust and distilled it into the stories of four women: Lea, Ettie, Marianne, and the golem-woman Ava. It’s about survival when everything you know is ripped away; disbelief that your neighbors, friends, and country can suddenly turn on you because of your beliefs; love when the world seems consumed by hate; courage when faced with unimaginable loss, and humanity when it’s needed most. It takes a writer as skilled as Hoffman to take these heart-wrenching stories and tell them with such grace and beauty.

The story begins and ends with love – the undying, monumental love of a mother for her child, and of the child for her mother. Hoffman’s trademark magical realism is here in the form of Ava, the golem created to keep Lea safe who performs her job to perfection. In the face of unimaginable horror, ordinary people find strength, courage, and yes, love.

The best of the year for me.

“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. The book builds and builds, as she weaves together, seamlessly, the stories of people in the most desperate of circumstances—and then it delivers with a tremendous punch. It opens up the world, the universe, in a way that it absolutely unique. By the end you may be weeping.” —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 about love and loss, about history and the world today, about what happens when man goes against the laws of nature for good and for evil. It’s my new favorite Hoffman book—and if you know how much I adore her writing, that’s truly saying something.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

“An exceptionally voiced tale of deepest love and loss…one of [Hoffman’s] finest. WWII fiction has glutted the market, but Hoffman’s unique brand of magical realism and the beautiful, tender yet devastating way she explores her subject make this a standout.” —Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy