The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

TheWorldthatTo start this review I’m going to use three simple words, breathtaking, beautiful, heartbreaking.

This is a unique story that takes a look at a specific period in history and chooses to focus on the lives of three women in particular whose determination to stay alive makes for compelling reading.

A story of the holocaust Hoffman chooses to highlight not the concentration camps but the lives of those trying to avoid them and by infusing the story with magical realism and myth and folklore creates an epic journey of survival that is harrowing and yet hopeful.

What I really loved about this was the excellent characterisation and the way the story incorporates more than just the grim facts.  This was probably one of the darkest times the world has known and yet by focusing on those people determined to change things for the better and help others even at great risk to themselves it highlights the goodness in people too and this makes the story capture those moments of beauty and light that give it extra depth.  However, bear in mind that this is at the same time, a difficult story, made even more so because of the fact that nothing is held back and the starkness of the reality is undeniably sad.

Hanna and her daughter are in hiding in the City of Berlin.  Hanna has become a thief, sneaking out in the dead of night to try and find food for the family.  On one such occasion she takes her daughter along and when things go horribly wrong decides that the time has come to send Lea away to safety.  Hanna seeks the most unlikely help imaginable.  She visits the house of a rabbi believing that a golem is the best way to protect her daughter.  As it turns out the rabbi’s daughter, an intelligent and quick witted young woman, born ahead of her time really, and very modern in herself determines to help Hanna in her hour of greatest need, at the same time she strikes a bargain with Hanna so that she and her sister might also try and escape the growing horrors of the City.  This is the start of a remarkable journey indeed that takes us into France, explores monasteries and remote schools and farms.  It takes us across country, takes a look at the resistance and gives moments of pure innocence involving a message carrying crane that likes to dance with a young woman made from clay and water.

The main characters are Lea (Hanna’s daughter) a beautiful young girl who unfortunately seems to draw the wrong sort of attention on occasion.   Lea is also the love interest for the story when she meets a young boy and the two form a strong attachment that even when separated (for much of the story) helps to sustain them.  Ava is the golem created to protect Lea and take her to safety.  As the story progresses Ava becomes more and more human and her desire to stay alive begins to override her need to obey the reason for her creation.  Finally, Ettie, is the Rabbi’s daughter who helped Hanna.  Ettie’s story is fuelled by the need for revenge that sees her eventually joining the resistance.

This story is just rich, in detail, in plot, in emotions and scope.  It’s beautifully written and yet at the same time quite unflinching in the details of what is actually taking place.  There’s a love story, in fact there’s more than one love story – three or four – and there are some brilliant secondary characters along the way who support the story really well, I particularly liked Marianne.

To be honest, I don’t want to go too much further with this review or over elaborate on the story because there is a temptation to give things away and I don’t want to do that.  Basically, this worked for me on a number of levels.  It’s a brilliant historical novel, rife with details, that takes a look at a much smaller slice of life.  It has satisfying storylines that intersect and come together in a very pleasing way.  I was rooting for the characters and felt a feeling of deep dread about how everything would all end – and as it happens the conclusion is perfect.  On top of that the magical realism elements, which aren’t for everyone I realise, are so very well done. Ava is a substitute mother who develops needs and longings of her own, she cares deeply for Lea but has her own desires that help to share the story and also give it an element of ‘why shouldn’t she live the life she wants?’ It’s a really interesting discussion point and one that kept me thinking long after the book was finished.

I don’t have any criticisms.

I received a copy through Edelweiss, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

I would rate this 4.5 of 5 stars



Can’t Wait Wednesday : The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. Because – ALICE HOFFMAN.  I love this author, I was so excited when I saw this book was due out that I nearly had a conniption!

TheWorldthatweknewIn Berlin in 1941 during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman.

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.

Expected publication : September 2019