The World That We Knew
by Alice Hoffman
Release date: September 24th, 2019
I received a complimentary ARC copy of The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada in order to read and give an honest review.
A huge fan of Alice Hoffman I was eager to read “The World That We Knew” and I was not disappointed. This is a beautifully-written, heartbreaking and poignant story following the lives of Jewish children fleeing the German occupation.
…a hauntingly meaningful story filled with good vs. evil and shows what love, family, loyalty and survival mean during the darkest moments of humanity…
When Hanni Kohn realizes she must send her daughter Lea away to safety from the German occupation she is aware she cannot go with her. Hanni looks for a suitable escort who would love and protect her daughter the way she would while she must stay to care for her invalid mother. Desperate she remembers the story of the Golem from Jewish folklore and enlists the help of her local Rabbis daughter, Ettie. One dark night Ettie, her sister Marta and Hanni break curfew to go to the water and create a Golem named Ava out of the pure river clay. Ava’s sole purpose in life is to protect Lea and lead her to safety. In return for creating the Golem, Ettie receives payment and insists that she and her sister be able to join Ava and Lea. They initially board a train to head to her mother’s cousins in Paris and are separated while escaping the Nazi’s as they take over the train. Once in Paris, Lea and Ava form strong bonds with the two sons until the Nazi’s occupy Paris forcing the children to flee again together. Separated along the way they cross paths with others, creating friendships, sharing bonds and losing people along the way trying to reach safety at the Swiss border. Their stories interconnect and show the resilience of bonds tested by events that would be devastating to adults. Although the story shows Ava who communes with Angels and can foresee futures, the magic realism doesn’t overshadow the story of what the children endure during the Nazi occupation.
Knowing and having connections with several Holocaust survivors over the years and hearing their stories, Hoffmans’ story feels so incredibly real. Showing the holocaust through the eyes of children is gutwrenching but this book was perhaps one of the most emotionally difficult to read and will be one that will stick with me for a long time. This really is a hauntingly meaningful story filled with good vs. evil that shows what love, family, loyalty and survival mean during the darkest moments of humanity. I would definitely recommend and beware it’s an emotional rollercoaster!