Alice Hoffman is the queen of magical realism and with good reason. In Alice Hoffman’s latest book, The World That We Knew, I was drawn into the world that Hoffman created through her vivid descriptions and poignantly drawn characters. I would call it the best World War II book I’ve read yet, aside from All The Light We Cannot See.
The World That We Knew hit the best-seller list on it’s official release day, edging out titles by Stephen King and others. I was lucky enough to hear Alice Hoffman speak at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park the day after she got the news, and it was a pleasure to witness her delight! I really wish I had taken notes during the interview, but I was too enrapt by the conversation she was having with Clara Sherley-Appel, the host of Story Behind The Story, a radio program local to California’s Central Coast. I did get my picture taken with her!
Alice’s latest book centers around a golem. A golem is a mythical creature, formed out of a clay and brought to life to be a sort of sidekick for the creator’s mission. Usually, golems are male and I think this is the first time I’ve read about a female golem. This is Alice Hoffman, of course– champion of women, so it makes sense that her golem would be a woman. Golems are generally helpful creatures but left unchecked, golems can go rogue and attain minds of their own. As we know, a mind of one’s own can be a dangerous thing, depending on who you ask, especially when it’s a woman that has a mind of her own.
This particular golem is created to protect Lea, whose mother demands that she leave Berlin and go to France. Lea’s mother, Hanni, stays behind with Lea’s grandmother, who is too elderly and frail to go anywhere. In 1941, both choices are dangerous but leaving, at least, offers some hope of survival.
The journey of the characters in The World That We Knew goes to the depths of love, despair, humanity, hope, winding around and around, until the mortal and immortal end.
More About The World That We Knew, from the publisher:
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.
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