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The World That We Knew: A Novel Kindle Edition
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Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the National Jewish Book Award for Book Club
“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
“[A] hymn to the power of resistance, perseverance and enduring love in dark times…gravely beautiful…Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.”—NEW YORK TIMES
"Every page of The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman is a delicious shock. Even the most wrenching moments are rendered with delicacy and beauty. And, c'mon, it's about a 12-year-old trying to escape the Nazis with the help of a golem. How do you not love that?" — Joe Hill, New York Times bestselling author of Stange Hill and The Fireman
"A spellbinding portrait of what it means to be human in an inhuman world."—KIRKUS REVIEWS (STARRED REVIEW)
“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)
“One of America’s most brilliant novelists since her debut, Property Of, Hoffman uses her signature element of magical realism to tackle an intolerably painful chapter in history. Readers know going in that their hearts will be broken, but they will be unable to let go until the last page.”—LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)
"Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sen- tence by sentence, The World That We Knew presents a breathtaking, deeply emotional odyssey through the shadows of a dimming world while never failing to convince us that there is light somewhere at the end of it all. This book feels destined to become a high point in an already stellar career.”—BOOKPAGE (STARRED REVIEW)
"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."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
About the Author
- ASIN : B07P5HY22M
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (September 24, 2019)
- Publication date : September 24, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 3757 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 401 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #56,938 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Top reviews from the United States
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Ettie is the eldest daughter of a rabbi, and has surreptitiously absorbed his teachings and rituals. When her mother unreservedly refuses to help Hanni, Ettie claims to know how to create a golem. Her price: passage on the night train to Paris for her sister Marta and herself. The golem that the women create is unlike any other: a woman whose only mission is to keep Lea safe. But a golem which exists too long becomes too powerful, and when Lea later learns what she must ultimately do, she is torn.
In Paris, Lea and her “cousin”, Ava join the household of Professor Andre Levi, whose maid, Marianne, has just abandoned her post to return to her father on his farm. Ava’s powers allow her to easily fill the role, but her surveillance of Lea cannot prevent the close connection that forms between her and young Julien Levi, no matter who disapproves. But Paris, too, is becoming unsafe for Jews, and Ava removes Lea to another shelter. Lea barely has time to implore Julien “Stay alive.” Who knows if they will ever see each other again.
This is a story that spans the years of the Second World War and ranges from Berlin to Paris to several parts of country France. Information about the golem and other mystical aspects is seamlessly integrated into the narrative. The cast of characters is not small, but many of them connect and reconnect, if only fleetingly. These represent the many real-life brave, generous, ordinary people who had a myriad of reasons to help the persecuted and resist the oppressor.
The circumstances of minor characters are often detailed using a small vignette of their lives. Where they encounter Ava, Hoffman uses the golem’s power of knowledge to note the fate of their loved ones and she frequently takes the opportunity to include the staggering statistics about the incarceration and death of those persecuted by the Nazi regime. To make it more interesting, she throws her characters the occasional dilemma.
Of course, among the many deaths, Hoffman realistically does not spare all of her protagonists for a Hollywood happy-ever-after. But rather than concentrating on atrocities, Hoffman makes this a moving and uplifting tale by showcasing those kind and charitable characters, giving them a starring role. Readers should be ready for some lump-in-the-throat moments. A stirring and thought-provoking read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Simon and Schuster
Ava and Lea escape Berlin with forged papers for the apparent safety of a relative’s home in Paris, but soon the horrors follow; Paris is no longer a safe haven for Jews, national or foreign. When all the Jews of Paris are rounded up in two-days’ time, and confined to a velodrome with fate unknown, Ava and Lea must escape once again, but where to, when the entire continent has been seized by violence?
Heartbreaking and lyrical, The World That We Knew is a starkly original take on the well-trodden topic of World War II, taking, as starting points, elements of Russian and Jewish folklore to underscore the plight of the “errand children” of WWII in a story that is fresh and haunting in equal measure. Just because the novel is relatively light on horrors doesn’t mean that the audience is spared details of the fast descent into madness occurring in Germany and France in the 1940s, of the humiliations and tragedy of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. We get a glimpse, that not because of its briefness loses its intensity, of the events leading to the roundup of Jewish families at Vel d’Hiver in Paris, summer 1942, and the ultimate fates of those confined. Through various characters, male and female, we are also treated to the way ordinary people became extraordinary by resisting violence in whatever form they could.
By using a creature steeped in myth, Alice Hoffman subtly explores profound questions such as whether it is possible to cheat death, what makes us human, how to remain human in an inhumane world, who to trust when everyone around is a potential enemy, and who to trust with caring for a loved one when one is prevented from doing so. In The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman makes us ponder about the big and the small, about love and how to express it, about being extraordinary in small ways. All these quandaries she has posed with a light touch, a firm hand, and lyricism to spare.
Top reviews from other countries
We join Hanni Kohn and her daughter Lea in Berlin at the beginning of WWII.The verbal propaganda against German Jews is now turning into action and after Lea is attacked by a soldier on her way home, Hanni intervenes with terrible consequences. Now Hanni knows she must get Lea out of Berlin, but how can they both leave when Hanni is looking after her elderly mother. Desperately looking for some way of protecting Lea, Hanni falls on the idea of a Golem - a mythical Jewish creature animated from clay. First she approaches the rabbi, who turns her down, but the rabbi’s daughter Ettie is listening and spies a chance to escape home. She assures Hanni she has the necessary power and learning to create such a creature, programmed to protect Lea, but only on the basis that Ettie and her sister can travel with them. They gather river clay, water and blood to create Ava, a strong woman with dark eyes and hair, who will travel as Lea’s cousin. However, all Golems must be destroyed once their purpose is done, so Hanni leaves instructions in Lea’s locket to ensure she can carry this out.
Hoffman’s story blends historical fact, outlining the fate of Jews in Berlin and France while the world claimed ignorance, with the story of the four girls. One is lost before they leave the country leaving behind a loved one intent on getting their revenge. There are other characters in the novel bringing their own story and perspective to the story. Despite having their own narrative Hoffman cleverly weaves their stories together they encounter each other at some time during the war. On Lea and Ava’s travels in France we meet Julien, his brother Victor and their parents. As a Jewish family resident in Paris their parents imagine themselves safe from the fate of Jewish refugees like Lea and Ava. At huge personal risk they let Lea and Ava join the household as their servant Marianne has left that morning. Ava takes to kitchen work while Lea forms a friendship with Juliet. Victor is mourning Marianne who we follow back to her father’s farm in the mountains bordering Switzerland. Victor decides to leave soon after, but his travels take him into the Resistance first where he meets a certain young woman hellbent on revenge. Julien is left behind, when Ava and Lea leave, and he watches as his parent’s assumptions are all proved wrong and they are lead to a stadium in burning heat. They are stripped of their jewellery and other valuables and kept without sanitation or food until they can be transported to the death camps, bewildered and broken. Julien hatches a last minute plan and manages to slip out of the stadium and into the labyrinth of streets until a special messenger gives him an idea of where Lea might be.
We follow these various characters through the Germany, to Paris, to a convent where silver roses bloom, and a farm in the mountains where over three thousand Jews are walked to the mountains and freedom. In between the many horrors of war sits the beauty of nature, strangely incongruous and almost mystical in that it carries on without or even in spite of us. I love the audacity of Hoffman’s magic realism in juxtaposing the Holocaust with a mysterious heron who dances in the moonlight, at the river’s edge, with a very unusual woman.
This beautiful novel weaves together the realities of a terrible war, with an element of ancient magic. Hoffman creates a story about the lengths people will go to in order to survive, protect those they love and fight for what they believe in. We also see the amazing healing power of love and forgiveness. Most of all, against a backdrop of the most evil and inhumane act of the 20th century, Hoffman uses the character of Ava to make us truly think about what qualities make us human.
I give this book 4-star because it started with a premise of magic, making a body comes alive with clay. I like the idea. The blossoming of friendship amongst the characters are moving. What I couldn’t follow are the ensuing stories about the other characters, which I feel is placed there to fill in the middle portion of the book. I just can’t relate, sorry.
I think if the story were to stay with the few earlier chapters and the last few chapters, where the clay person and her maker are emotionally involved as sisters, the story would have been full already.
I compared the plot with other epic stories where there are many extended characters, the characters in these stories are interrelated. Here, they seemed separated. Hence, I can’t follow the story.
As a story of magic, of war and of human dignity, this is a good story. I like the magic, it is truly incredible.