Title/Author: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
In a nutshell:
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.
Verdict: If you love magical realism and adult fairy tales with fantastic storytelling, this one’s for you!
I’ve heard so much about Alice Hoffman and how brilliant her books are. A lady I met at a book fest I attended recently, suggested that I read her books and that ‘all of them are good’. So of course I had to read her latest book, ‘The World That We Knew’. And what a gem this is!
Germany. 1941. A difficult time for Jews in Berlin.
Hanni Kohn was torn between staying and fleeing. She decided the latter for her twelve-year-old daughter, Lea, and sent her to Paris, while she stayed behind with her mother, Bobeshi, who was bed-ridden. Worried about Lea’s safety, Hanni paid Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, to create a golem to protect Lea. The golem, created by Ettie, her sister, Marta and Hanni was one like no other. Hanni wanted the golem to be able to speak, who would care and protect Lea like Hanni would, and most of all, to “make certain it’s a woman.” Ettie had never created a golem before, let alone one that’s a woman, but she went ahead creating her, using the skills and knowledge she had secretly learned from her father. They named the golem Ava.
Together, Lea and Ava traveled to Paris to stay with Professor Andre Levi, a distant relative. There, Ava replaced Marianne, as the household’s maid. And in that household too, Lea met her soulmate, Julien Levi, the professor’s youngest son. When Paris became unsafe for the Jews, Lea and Ava had to leave and seek another safe haven.
A haunting, heartbreaking novel, set in World War 2. We learned of the survivors, of those who fought and lost, but got up and fought again, of strong willful women like Marianne Cohn and Sabine Zlatin who risked their lives and sheltered and saved the children. We saw how sometimes war can break even the toughest; how kids learned not to trust at a very young age, always on alert, always having a weapon by their side, and they were taught survival skills such as ‘how to catch a fish in your hand, how to tell if a water was fit to drink, how to hide beneath a pile of leaves so that it seemed no one was there‘, instead of letting them enjoy the innocence of childhood.
Despite the bleakness of war, there were moments of tenderness, friendship and love – between Lea and Julien, Marianne and Victor, Ava and the heron, and the relationship between Lea and Ava that strengthened with time, despite its complication in the beginning. The characters and their stories grew on me, and it was really difficult to say goodbye when the book came to an end. And it’s such an irony, that the golem, an unpredictable , soulless spirit, a monster, was the one in the end, that fell in love with Love and the world with all its ugliness and beauty. Ava is so easy to fall in love with. She was to me, the heart of the story.
Steeped in myth and folklore, this novel made me question, can we really cheat death; the dangers of being given the power to give and take life; the thin line between good and evil; how humanity is viewed in the eyes of others, and what it means to be human.Tweet
I fell in love with Hoffman’s storytelling. Yes, there was more telling than showing, which would normally turn me off, but, Hoffman has a certain way with words, that’s mesmerizing and, if I may, magical. Her words lure me in, almost hypnotically, and before I know it, I am under her spell, and now, there’s no way of undoing it! Not that I would want to! Haha
I’m really excited to be checking out her other novels, especially ‘Practical Magic‘! I wasn’t even aware it had been made into a movie, until now! How ignorant I have been!
Have you read ‘The World We Never Knew’? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to read it? Are you a fan of Hoffman? If you are, what other books would you recommend? Please share with me your thoughts!
Last but not least, may the power of good books be with you always! And thank you for stopping by!