Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The World That We Knew

Rate this book
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.

372 pages, Hardcover

First published September 24, 2019

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Alice Hoffman

110 books20.9k followers
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew; The Marriage of Opposites; The Red Garden; The Museum of Extraordinary Things; The Dovekeepers; Here on Earth, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; and the Practical Magic series, including Practical
Magic; Magic Lessons; The Rules of Magic, a selection of Reese’s Book Club; and The Book of Magic. She lives near Boston.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
13,472 (42%)
4 stars
12,512 (39%)
3 stars
4,732 (14%)
2 stars
908 (2%)
1 star
291 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,273 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,309 reviews44.1k followers
October 17, 2022
Magical realism crashes into folklore, mysticism with heart wrenching Holocaust casualties’ poignant story with well-rounded, fantastically developed, relatable characters could be the best formula and definition of WRITING A MASTERPIECE AND CREATING AN AMAZING PORTRAIT BY USING WORDS AS LIKE SMALL BRUSHES OF VIVID COLORS.

I can only do things with my hands: First: I can applause the author for creating such memorable characters stories’ entwined with each other like and writing my second best Holocaust story after “Book Thief”. The other thing I can do: giving five billion stars and applause the author for one more time.

A mother’s emotional story about sacrificing herself for giving her daughter a second chance to survive by pleading rabbi’s daughter to create a golem (mystical and powerful creature) to protect her daughter from the monsters hid in human furs. Ettie-rabbi’s daughter- does what she requested in exchange of jewelries which will help her and sister to escape from the country along with Lea and her golem formed in human body Ava.

Their story starts with the escape till their horrifying adventure turns into running for their lives and facing to the true nature of hatred, violence, crimes and it finally ends with a poetic, emotional, meaningful way.
The writing is like calm and serene river flows between harsh reality and fairy-tales. It’s also tear jerker and heart melting tribute to those brave heroes who helped Jewish people with their secret underground organizations by putting their lives in danger to save more souls and bringing the divine justice to their country.

I’ll never forget Lea, Hannie, Ettie, Julien, Hector, Marianne… All those meaningful, heartwarming, intense relationships, their amazing connection and affection that wound your heart will be imprinted on your minds and at your hearts forever. It’s impossible not to feel for them.

Especially those Julien words as he is about to lose his faith with for seeing too much violence, ruthlessness in his young age: “Find me before I disappear”

And this poetic, splendid, spectacular ending… SIGH! I have no words left to tell my feelings. T1his is my favorite historical novel of the year!
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
September 9, 2019

This is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful books I’ve read. I don’t know much of anything about Jewish Mysticism or folklore, but it’s woven into the story in such a stunning way. It does take some suspension of disbelief to accept the premise of the story, a mother begging a rabbi’s daughter to create a golem to bring her daughter to safety, a dancing heron who loves the golem and the angel of death. Yet, I didn’t once feel that the importance, the depth and breadth of the suffering of the Jews at the hands on the Nazis was in the least diluted by the fairytale nature, the magical realism in this story because at its core, this is about the Holocaust. The horrific things that happened to Jews were always front and center beginning with the unimaginable - a mother sending her child away to save her from the Nazis, to the stories of what happens to the families of the characters who have fled to survive or to save others. There aren’t fairytale and mystical characters on every page. There is the realism of the real monsters with their inhuman treatment of innocent men, women and children. Some of the most descriptive and difficult passages are those that deal with what happens to those who have not escaped, those who were rounded up and taken to camps, to the deaths of resistance members.

The writing is superb. The story telling is magnificent. I loved how the chapters alternate between the characters and how their stories connect and how more characters are introduced. There are stories within the story - the white wolf, the silver roses. It begins with Hanni and Lea and Ettie and Ava, then expands to include the people they love, the roles that some of them play in the resistance. I felt so emotionally connected to these characters . I was afraid for what could happen to any of them, each of them facing the angel of death at some point.

I loved Hoffman’s note to the reader in the beginning, about writing, about remembering, about how the book came to be and her thoughts on fairy tales and life and I think I was hooked then. She tells the reader how she met a woman who as a young Jewish child was sent away by her parents to a convent and because of this she survived the Holocaust. She wanted Hoffman to write her life story. She wanted her story told so it would be remembered. But Hoffman told her that she couldn’t since her “interests were fairy tales, myths, and folktales.”. She later realized that “...the tale of a child separated from her parents, is the central motif of many fairy tales ...” and that fairy tales contain “the deepest psychological truths.” And so we have this beautifully written novel where she remembers the woman’s story, and enables us not to forget, which for me is a hallmark of Holocaust literature. It’s also a tribute to the people of the resistance who helped to save as many Jews as they could, thousands of them children, a tribute to their unselfish bravery and goodness. It’s an amazing portrayal of the power of love and hope even in the most dark and dismal of times. I have read just a few novels by this prolific author and I’m determined to read more.

I read this with Diane and Esil. As always I enjoyed our thoughtful discussions.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Simon & Schuster through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
March 27, 2019
LONG....( ha.....again?/! ......I couldn’t help myself), but NO SPOILERS...
This book has crawled under my skin. It’s a book of womanly strength, love, and wisdom....set in WWII.

Usually I write a review immediately upon finishing it.
I’m glad I waited. It took me longer to read this novel more than others of the same length. I paused longer - lingered longer - over sentences. I also spent time studying history I was unfamiliar with.

With feelings of being small - in my own ability to write a review of this very ambitious historical novel - I needed time to let my feelings neutralized - contend with my thoughts - and locate my ‘Courage Hat’. I’m not going to get this right - but I promise to do the best I can.

My ‘very first’ inner voice response ( after reading “The World That We Knew”), was...."close, but still not ‘The Dovekeepers’".
I quickly marked ‘read’ with 4 stars highlighted on Goodreads...., but I think I knew in my gut this was equally valuable to me as ‘The Dovekeepers’. I was just a little ashamed at how much more I had to work - ( I’m Jewish and read many Holocaust stories - shouldn’t I know these basic facts by now?).....
THE HISTORY IN HERE THAT I DIDN’T KNOW....which I’m grateful to having learned -many thanks to Alice Hoffman- is NOT SOOOOO BASIC!!!
I did some serious thinking for a few days about this book - along with some re-reading of passages and dialogue. I also re- studied historical facts - filling holes in my education. It’s amazing to me how many gaps - ‘still’ - of WWII history have been left behind. At least for me.

So....first acknowledgements: I’m deeply grateful to our award winning author. I appreciate Alice Hoffman’s dedication to writing about a remarkable period of history. I appreciate the immediate connection with the characters - her lush luminous prose - the extraordinary storytelling - and for being a real inspiration for me personally in opening my heart in seeing the importance to keep learning.
I was not only submerged in the intricate relationships - but page after page I fell deeper into the richly imagined world....pausing to google historical communes and children’s orphanages....( none of which I knew about).

Thank you ( and I’ve said this 1 million times before… But I’m sincerely thankful), to Netgalley- and the publishers who have trusted me enough to offer an advance copy to review - and with this book - special thanks to Simon & Schuster’s Publishing team.

It was tumultuous times. I asked myself - what was the most important personal goal in a world where evil was rampant everywhere you turned?
TO LIVE....the goal was TO STAY ALIVE... to LIVE!!! I thought about every possible successful turn in my life and those in the lives of others. What stands out is ‘somebody’ was FOR ME... somebody was FOR MY FRIENDS.

For Lea...her mother, Hanni, was Lea’s biggest allied. The world was black with horror. Millions of Jews tortured, separated by those they loved - many were made to dig their own graves - castrated - humiliated - millions murdered - at the rate of a thousand a day in Auschwitz. WE KNOW THESE THINGS.....
YET...ALWAYS HORRIFYING.....felt ‘newly’ on any given day.
One of the strongest themes for me is the POWER of a MAGICAL-REMARKABLE - DEEPLY LOVING relationship between a mother and daughter. Throughout all the storytelling adventures from beginning to end....I was constantly moved by a mother’s love for her daughter.
This excerpt is soooo beautiful.....speaks volumes:
“Night after night, in the trees or in the grass, Lea dreamed of her mother. She heard Hanni’s voice in the wind, in birdsong, in falling leaves”.
“I was with you when the roses bloomed with silver petals, when you saw Paris for the first time, when that boy looked at you, when you learned prayers in the convent, when you ran through the woods”.

Soon after meeting twelve year old Lea, shy, but highly intelligent, ( and having survived a frightening failed rape intent)... Hanni Kohn, her mother, will do anything in her power to have her daughter protected - which means sending Lea far away from Berlin.....save her from the Nazi regime.
Hanni’s husband - a medical doctor - was murdered outside the Jewish Hospital. He had saved 720 souls. After Simon died - it was believed- and hoped for - in the Jewish religion - that “perhaps on the day that he left OLAM HaZEH, the world that we walk through each living day, those who had been saved we’re waiting for him in
OLAM HaBa, the World to Come”.

Hanni refused to believe that her husband’s life meant nothing.
“In Berlin, evil came to them slowly and then all at once”.
Hanni was determined that Lea would live and save more souls.....
“It would go on and on, until there was more good in the world than evil”.

Grandmother, Bobeshi, had told Lea stories and told her “to be a wolf”. Lea learned early to rise out of darkness- she became “the flower on a stem of thorns”.
Lea learned - from experience- about The Angel of Death. The “angel” took away the evil man who tried to pick a flower ( Lea), and all he got was a handful of thorns....then he got what he deserved: death!
Grandmother Bobeshi was sick, bedridden. Hanni needed to honor the 5th commandment- she couldn’t leave her mother.
But each day groups of Jews were taken to Grosse Hamburger Strasse - then soon be sent to their deaths on trains to resettle Jews in the East.
NOT LEA......

Tante Ruth was over hundred years old. Her father was a rabbi in Russia.....called a magician. Her own husband was named The Magician’s assistant. The men studied the Zohar, The Book of Splendour, - holy mysteries. Women were denied the opportunity to study- denied Torah study. However, Tante Ruth learned a lot listening to the men debate. After her husband died ( who knew 72 kinds of wisdom that he learned from his father), Ruth believed in their miracles. It was believed that all creation came from thought, language, and mathematics.

Hanni turned to Tante Ruth - a magical brilliant pillar in their small community of Jews. Neighbors didn’t listen to Ruth when the Nazi policies first began to separate Jews from the rest of the population.
To fight the WICKED......MAGIC and FAITH were needed.
This is how we learn of “The Golem”. The Golem was created by the use of 22 Hebrew letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The Golem can see the future - among other things - including seeing the exact day and time of a person’s death. It can speak to angels. Ruth sent Hanni to speak to their local Rabbi - knowing the rabbi would refuse to speak to her. He would not allow another woman in the room other than his own wife.....however- Hanni was to talk to the rabbi’s wife. The real miracle help came from the rabbi’s daughter- Ettie.
Ettie brings forth the creature with mud and water.
*Ava Perrin*, ( six feet tall), is the name of Ettie’s creation. Ava, was created to protect Lea, who would follow her to the end of the earth and never abandon her.
Ava - made from clay - wasn’t suppose to ‘feel’....as she was created without a soul. Lea wasn’t so sure. Ava and a heron had a special relationship.

Ettie was bright as a whip - clever - independent - ambitious - defiant when necessary. Ettie’s mother wasn’t helpful to Hanni- but Ettie was.
Ettie wished she were born a boy. Only the most learned person ( such as Ettie was), could use the 72 names of God to bring forth a Golem.
SUCCESS....( and Tante Ruth had said only men could bring a Golem to life)... ha!
Ettie was exceptional - she was born to fight. She re named herself Nicole Duval.

WE FOLLOW Ettie, ( her younger sister Marta died), Lea, and Ava on a long journey.
So many men - had been entering The World To Come...OLAM HaBa. - THESE STRONG WOMEN NEEDED TO SURVIVE.

I learned a lot!!!!! I didn’t (until this book), know anything about the Huguenot residents of Le Chambon - Sur - Lignon - who made a haven for the Jewish people fleeing from the Nazis.

I also didn’t know about Izieu: A Jewish orphanage.
In 1943, a school for children opened at Izieu.... a commune in eastern France.
A year later everyone was gone. The children were sent to Auschwitz. The French government said it was kindness to send the children to be with your parents. Different police were in collaboration with the Germans and all 42 children were taken to Montluc Prison. Not a single child survived.

You’ll meet Julien - a Heron - Dr. Girard- learn of other communes - bombing in Vienna- visit Haute-Loire- ponder over sights, sounds, smells, language, and tidbits of details. Did you know that the German government forced every Jewish women to use the name Sarah after her own name on every official document? I didn’t.
And.....most you feel as if you know the main characters - and minor characters well....
If you are like me.... you’ll be moved by a mother/ daughter strength that you just might either be a little jealous - that you’re on relationship with your own mother was lacking OR....bask in the special love you did or do have with your mother.

A perfect gift to our mother’s who read!!!
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,713 reviews25k followers
September 26, 2020
Have just finished listening to the audio too, Judith Light’s narration is extraordinary, bringing Hoffman’s incredibly moving novel alive, leaving me once again heartbroken, until the final pages of hope, love and resilience.... I strongly recommend the audio as well as the book.

Alice Hoffman weaves a powerfully imaginative story of Europe's nightmarish historical horrors of WW2 and the Holocaust, coloured with the fantastical, Jewish folklore, the darkest of grim fairytales, set in Germany and Nazi occupied France, with its Nazi collaborators, the Milice, determined to destroy the brave French Resistance. It speaks of love, loss, grief, heartbreak,resilience and courage in the face of the insanity and monstrous evil of the Nazi regime, illustrating both sides of the coin, the very best of humanity side by side with the terrifying side of its worst. Hanni Kohn is living in a Berlin in 1941, facing a choice that no mother wants, her husband, Simon, has been murdered, Germany is far too dangerous for her bright 12 year old daughter, Lea. Fiercely protective, she will do whatever it takes to save Lea, make any sacrifice even if it breaks her heart. She seeks help from a rabbi, finding it from the daughter, Ettie, instead.

The remarkable Ettie can do what it is said only men can do, she conjures a special golem from clay, Ava, to protect Lea. Hanni knows in her heart she cannot leave her ailing mother, and sends Lea, who doesn't want to leave her beloved mother, with Ava to France. Ettie, too, escapes with her younger sister, Marta, their paths destined to intertwine and connect with that of Lea and Ava. Encountering love, angels of death on earth, white roses, a white wolf, a dancing heron, and help from unexpected places, the unimaginably defiant spirit of the French resistance, there is inhumanity, terror, the madness of evil, and how far the human soul will rise to counter it. This is the story about love, war, about the humanity of Ava, mothers and daughters, family, faith, survival and the unbelievable wonders of the human spirit.

This is unforgettable and well researched storytelling, with characters so vividly vibrant, where the magical realism elements simply strengthen the narrative, lending it an ever greater impact. It goes without saying that I recommend this highly. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for an ARC.
Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,158 followers
October 25, 2019
Having waited patiently for a copy from Overdrive for many weeks, I was a little apprehensive once it finally arrived. Why? Much as I enjoy magical realism, I am not familiar with the Jewish folklore, and I could recognize only the idea of a golem. My first rather careful moments with the novel turned into a read that left me overwhelmed. The motherly love in the dark times of the Holocaust wins ....
A mesmerizing novel ...
A thank-you to my GR Friends' reviews ... Thanks to you, one more time I found a novel that I will not forget .......
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
December 3, 2019
Ruth knew what evil could befall a girl traveling alone. Especially now, when there were demons dressed in army uniforms on every corner. Ruth knew of them as mazikin, terrible creatures whose work was the misery of humankind. They had accomplished their work in Berlin…newspapers printed captions beneath photographs of Jewish businessmen and lawyers and professors. Here are the animals. Do you know this Beast? That was how evil spoke. It made its own corrupt sense; it swore that the good were evil, and that evil had come to save mankind. It brought up ancient fears and scattered them on the street like pearls. To fight what was wicked, magic and faith were needed. This was what one must turn to when there was no other option.
Berlin, Spring, 1941. Hanni Kohn’s husband, Simon, a Jewish doctor, has been murdered, for being a Jewish doctor. She lives with her mother, Bobeshi, and Lea, her twelve-year-old daughter. The old lady was in no condition to travel, so Hanni was stuck, but there was still a chance that she could save her child.
If you do not believe in evil, you are doomed to live in a world you will never understand. But if you do believe, you may see it everywhere, in every cellar, in every tree, along streets you know and streets you have never been on before. In the world that we knew, Hanni Kohn saw what was before her. She would do whatever she must to save those she loved, whether it was right or wrong, permitted or forbidden.
She finds a rabbi renowned for his expertise and begs him to make a golem (a magical being made from clay) to protect her daughter until she was safe. His wife will not even let Hanni speak to him, but his daughter, Ettie, denied the religious tuition she craved, but an always eager listener at doorways, offers to do the deed. Thus is born Ava, (based on the word Chava, which means life) a creature built not just of clay, water, and mysticism, but of tears and menstrual blood, a female golem, sworn to protect her charge, Lea, as others of her kind had been charged with protecting Jews from worldly evil in the past. But Hanni is warned not to let the creature persist beyond the duration of her mission, as golems were inclined to increasing their knowledge and power over time. Hanni begs the creature to love her daughter as if she were her own. She tells Lea that Ava is a distant cousin.

Alice Hoffman - image from The Guardian

Lea’s journey with Ava is the primary thread in the novel. In an essay in the book that follows the story, Hoffman calls it a “fairy tale motif of a girl who loses her mother and must find her way in the world.” But there are others we follow as well. The Levi family in Paris is made up of math Professor Andre, Madame Claire, Victor (17), Julien (14) and their young housemaid, Marianne. As the horrors of the Reich reach Paris, the three young people set out on their separate paths. We track them, and the golem-maker, Ettie, along with Lea and Ava. Paths will intersect.

The spark for the novel came in the form of a fan who approached Hoffman after a book signing, and told her about having been taken in and protected in a convent during the war. She was afraid that her history and the history of others who had likewise been saved would be lost. She wanted Hoffman to write her story. The author told her that she does not do that, but the notion stuck, and some time later, wanting to write a book about the Holocaust, she returned to it.
Partly, I felt it was my last chance to meet survivors and try to understand how they could go through something like that and continue to be in the world. That’s what I really wanted to find out. After all that has happened, can this still be the world that they knew? (The title alludes to that.) And how can they still want to be in it? - from the Moment Magazine interview
Hoffman traveled to France and visited the chateaus, homes for children, that had been refuges for refugees. She met with Holocaust survivors both in the USA and in France to inform her knowledge of this heretofore unknown (to her) aspect of that dark, dark time. In an interview with the Philadelphia Enquirer, Hoffman recalls, One really amazing gentleman came to the country from Paris, and we went to the village where he had been a hidden child. He hadn’t been back. It was extremely emotional. She did not limit her view to what had happened in the past but sees growing dangers in the world we know today
"I was writing about what hate does, the effects of the fear of people who are ‘other.’ I didn’t realize that so much of what was happening in France during World War II was anti-refugee, that it began not as a movement that was anti-Jewish but simply anti-refugee. So I found myself writing about how it’s really a choice, about how easy it can be to look in the other direction. These things happen slowly and then, all of a sudden, they have happened.” - from the Bookpage interview
The secondary characters are amazingly well realized, from a doctor who treats resistance fighters, to Marianne’s father, who keeps bees on his farm, to Sister Marie, a nun with a complicated past, who protects refugees. There is a heron who plays a significant and touching role. Tales told by Bobeshi are recounted throughout the story, family lore regarding wolves as often as not. The Kohns feel a close kinship with them, a sort of family totem. Hoffman’s earliest exposure to story was the tales she heard from her Russian Jewish grandmother. We do not know if Hoffman’s family shares the Kohns’ lupine affinity. Granny is nicely represented here.

In addition to the emotional engagement of the story, you will learn about resistance organizations, and about peculiarities of governance in occupied France that affected how Jews were treated. And about the Huguenots’ experience of persecution informing their welcoming of refugees.

While I may be a bit more subject to literature-driven lachrymosity than most males, it is usually of the whimpering sort, a few sniffs, snorts, leaky eyes, with maybe a crying gasp or two bursting forth. The power of the character creation here, the emet with which Hoffman has imbued them with her inerrant form of magic, the power of the connections she had forged for them with others and the ultimate loss of some, left me bawling into a pillow, desperate not to wake others. Keep a box of tissues handy. And maybe don’t read where you might disturb anyone else.

There are great issues at play in this beautiful, dazzling, heart-rending, book. What is life? What is the soul? Are souls restricted to humans alone? What is the power of faith? The power of love, parental, spousal, love of nature, love of god, and longing, to help keep us alive, to give life meaning, and to transcend death? What can good people do to fight evil? The power of the transmission of lore, of faith, of culture down through the generations. How do people survive in dark times? The World That We Knew is among Alice Hoffman’s best novels ever, and may be the best. The world that we know has been blessed with arrival of, not just a great book, but an instant classic. When you read this not-to-be-missed novel, you will find reaffirmation that it is indeed a good time in which to be alive.
I always start a novel with a question. With THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW, my question was How do survivors of tragedy manage to go on? I found my answer when speaking with survivors in this country and in France. Even those who had suffered enormous loss valued life, wanted to live, and found joy in their families, their work, their memories and their daily lives.- from the Moment Magazine interview

Review posted – November 1, 2019

Publication date – September 24, 2019

December 2019 - The World That We Knew is named one of Amazon's Best Books of 2019 (Literature and Fiction), which it certainly is, and one of Amazon's overall Best Books of 2019

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Instagram and FB pages

One wonders if the Doctor Girard of the novel might be a tip of the hat to Professor Albert Guerard, a mentor of Hoffman’s at Stanford.

-----BookPage - A little magic is necessary to write the darkest stories
-----The Morning Blend - "The World That We Knew" by Alice Hoffman: The Latest from the New York Times Best Seller - video – 5:45
-----Moment Magazine - The Magic of Alice Hoffman - by Amy E. Schwartz
-----Reading Group Guides - Author Talk: September 25, 2019
-----The Philadelphia Inquirer - ‘Write my life’: A stranger’s plea inspired Alice Hoffman’s new novel - by Chris Hewitt

Items of Interest
-----Simon & Schuster - Alice Hoffman shares the inspiration behind The World That We Knew - video – 1:49
----- Simon & Schuster - Alice Hoffman on Writing - 1:08

Other Hoffman books I have reviewed:
-----Local Girls
-----Green Angel
-----Blackbird House
-----The Ice Queen
-----The Red Garden
-----The Dovekeepers
-----The Rules of Magic
Profile Image for Debra .
2,424 reviews35.2k followers
May 10, 2023
"...for what good is it to rescue yourself if you leave behind the person you love the most?"

I don't think that I can do justice to this beautifully written tale of love, family, faith, resistance, longing, grief, pain, sacrifice, duty, and what it means to be alive. Hoffman's writing is heartbreakingly beautifully, sad, hopeful and joyful at times during this novel- but mainly it's dripping with a sadness so deep it leaps from the pages and affects the reader (at least it affected this reader). She also utilizes Jewish folklore/mysticism and has a Golem as a main character as well. Speaking of characters in this book, there are many in this book whose paths cross, their stories are unique and yet their individual stories have the same theme - loss of family, loss of a parent or parents, loss of a sibling, loss of freedom, and a loss of one's home.

."Heart of my heart, love of my life, the one loss I will never survive."

In the beginning of the book, a Mother, Hanni Kohn, seeks out a Rabbi hopping to save her twelve-year-old daughter, Lea. She does not meet with the Rabbi that night, but instead meets with his daughter, Ettie, who has listened to her father for years, and creates a Golem she names Ava who is sworn to protect Lea.

"When you have lost your mother you have lost the world."

Hanni sends her daughter away with Ava, choosing to stay behind with her Mother who is too ill to flee. Ave and Lea are not the only ones who flee, Ettie and her younger sister flee as well, fearing the Nazi regime and the dangers or the time. Both sets must leave their Mother's behind in hopes of saving their own lives.

"Their time here was over, it was already in the past."

The young girls/women in this book are not the only characters, there are two brothers, Victor and Julien, who have lost members of their families as well. They are trying to survive in a world where they are unwanted, branded criminals, hunted, and turned away by those they once called friends.

"...people always lost what they loved the most."

All paths collide in this heartbreaking tale of cruelty, hatred, evil, courage and love. Evil exists in this book as does goodness. There are characters whose kindness and beauty shine through, who will sacrifice all that they have to give in order to save those condemned by the Nazis. Those who saved lives in their own quiet way, those who did anything and everything they could to prevent evil from prevailing, who aided the resistance, who saved as many men, women and children as they could.

"Remember when I loved you above all others and you loved me in return."

The relationships in this book are wonderful, the imagery dances off the page just as Ava danced with the heron at night. There is something magical going on here. Hoffman has a gift with words and has created a masterpiece. She has created a story with characters having deep and meaningful relationships, having impact on each other and themselves, all the while fighting for their lives, the lives of others and for the chance to be together once again.

"Find me before I disappear."

Hoffman had me from page one, heck she had me at the note in the beginning before the book started. I found this book to be captivating, heartbreaking, hard to put down, thought provoking and moving. I included some of my favorite passage in this review. They speak for themselves. So, I will simply speak to those reading this review, and simply say read this book.

Highly Recommend.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
September 9, 2019
Question I asked myself. All Holocaust books are heartbreaking, Would this book become just another sad story without the magical realism? I think that element made this book memorable, one that stands out, unforgettable. Ava represents a mother's love, someone who is not human, but more human than many others during this inhuman time. I loved when the doctor thought, if one can love, one has a soul. So much evil, so many deaths and yet so many good people that went above and beyond. So many elements combined, a heron I adored, showing there are many other species able to love. So I decided the magical realism allowed Hoffman to interject a great deal of love and wonder into a story of a time that represented, hatred, horror, death and loss. It provided an emotional element that went above and beyond. I loved the ending, it was just right.

I still want a knight for Christmas and now I've added three angels to my list.

My monthly read with Angela and Esil. This book provided much fodder for our discussion.

ARC from Edelweiss
Profile Image for Liz.
2,145 reviews2,763 followers
September 5, 2019
I am not a fan of magic realism. But Alice Hoffman is the exception that proves the rule, as I have loved every book of hers that I’ve read.

The book takes place during World War Two. Lea’s mother, Hanni, knows she must send her daughter Lea, away from Berlin. Ava is a golem, a soulless creature created to act as a guardian to Lea. Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, is the one who creates Ava, thereby linking the three of them. We hear from each of them with their individual stories. Each story reveals their strength, their love, their humanity, yes, even “soulless” Ava. It’s not often that I care equally about multiple main characters. Once again, Hoffman is the exception to the rule.

As always, Hoffman transports us. Numerous books have tackled the terror of the Nazi regime, yet Hoffman brought up things I’ve never read elsewhere. Her research was intense but is woven seamlessly into the stories. Primarily a story of survival, it also shows us the best and worst of humanity.

My thanks to netgalley and Simon & Schuster for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
506 reviews1,488 followers
October 26, 2019
Hoffman spins a brilliant heart stopping story of WW2. The world we knew is a world that exists no longer during this time of atrocity; of fear; of sacrifice.
But the similarities of these stories, as heart hurting as they are, stop there. She magically transcends this story into one that includes a Golem.
Courage, bravery and humanity these characters carried. The souls that were sacrificed and those that continued on with the pain and memories.
A heart squeezing, tear jerking one.
Hoffman pulls at all the strings.
This one gets a 5⭐️
Profile Image for Tammy.
523 reviews438 followers
July 9, 2019
I am not a fan of magical realism and, stylistically speaking, I don’t care for narrative written as a fairy tale. Hoffman employs both. That said I had to consider if this novel works in terms of the author’s intention and I think it does. The mother’s love is palpable, the symbolism of the heron is effective, the research is solid and the ending is powerful. In addition, there are several very beautiful passages. But, the characters are one dimensional and we are told rather than shown which diminishes the overall forcefulness of this novel about one of the blackest periods of history. Hoffman readers will love this and many will disagree with me. That’s fine. My rating reflects an objective point of view while my comments are, obviously, subjective.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
September 24, 2019

A little more than six years ago I read The Golem and the Jinni, (#1) and shortly after that, I read The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, which I might have struggled with the concept of a man created out of earth and clay more had I not read The Golem and the Jinni, and I enjoyed both of those stories, but this one took my breath away.

Beautifully written, this story is shared with just the right touch of magical realism needed to lend it the air of a lyrical fairy-tale set in Germany and France during World War II. This golem brought to life by Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, who has overheard her father create a golem once. And so Ettie creates this female being to protect Lea, daughter of Hanni, who must leave Berlin for her own safety. Strict rules come with the creation of such a creature, including ensuring the destruction after a limited period of time. Lea must leave for her own protection, but her mother can’t leave her own mother behind, and so Hanni convinces Lea to go with Ava.

At its heart, this is a love story, but it is more about love in a general sense – our love of life, the everyday moments we take for granted, the beauty in the world isn’t always so easily recognized in days like these, when living an ordinary, everyday kind of life isn’t even possible. And yet, even in dark times – and these were very dark times – there always seems to be that thread of love and hope and perhaps most important of all - humanity. There is some romantic love, as well as embracing our love of this gift we’ve been given of life, and how to honor it by honoring the humanity in others, themes that flow through these pages. The always strong, beating heart of this, though, is the maternal love shown through Hanni’s sacrifice for her daughter’s benefit, and the maternal love of Ava, who represents the fiercely protective, nurturing maternal nature of mothers.

Set in a time of rising evil infecting the land, this is an extraordinary portrait of the never-ending nature, and power, of love.

Pub Date: 24 Sep 2019

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Simon & Schuster
Profile Image for Carolyn (on vacation).
2,249 reviews643 followers
September 26, 2019
This is a beautiful novel with threads of magical realism superimposed on the horror that was WWII and the Jewish holocaust. Hoffman's writing is lyrical and magical as she weaves her powerful tale of a Jewish mother who gave up everything to give her daughter a chance to survive the war aided by the bravery of the French resistance who rescued so many Jews, including thousands of children. The story is heart-wrenching and the characters unforgettable.

It's 1941 in Berlin and Jews are being denied basic rights and freedom and forced to wear the yellow star. Hanni Kohn knows they should leave while they sill can but she can't bear to leave her elderly mother alone. She wants her twelve year old daughter Lea to have a chance to escape what is surely coming but can't bear to send her away unprotected without her mother to care for her. She seeks out Ettie, a Rabbi's daughter who agrees to create a magical creature, a golem who they name Ava, to act as Lea's guardian on her journey. With a burning rage for what is happening to her family and friends, Ettie must also leave on her own journey without her family but she is fated to meet Lea and Ava again before the end of the war.

With chapters told from the point of view of all the main characters, we see them all change and strengthen as they face danger and adversity but also find kindness and love. They will see Angels on Earth including the Angel of Death as well as a beautiful, elegant heron who plays an important role for both Lea and Ava. Hoffman has crafted a wondrous tale in the darkness of times, one of great humanity and love.

With many thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster Australia for a digital copy to read.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,327 reviews2,145 followers
March 16, 2022
This one was an interesting experience especially as, after the first fifty or so pages, I seriously considered giving it up. I suppose it is safe to say I found it slow to begin with. Anyway I did persist and I am glad I did.

The story begins in Berlin with the Nazi persecution of the Jews where we meet Hanni. She becomes desperate to save her daughter Lea and, unable to leave herself because of own her sick mother, she decides to help create a golem to protect Lea and take her to France.

Once Ava is safely created and established as a real character the story really begins to unfold. I enjoy magical realism when it is done well and this is. Ava's magical powers are used not only to help Lea survive, but also to provide information which could otherwise not be known, for example what eventually happens to Hanni.

The World That We Knew is very much a book about love and the things it drives humans to do, set against the horrors and atrocities of the War. Hoffman does a remarkable job of never holding back on the horror and yet lifting up her characters and showing what the human spirit can do. Ava and her beautiful heron are central to this.

By the end of the book I was crying as I expect many readers were. I am very glad I decided to give it a second chance and kept reading.
Profile Image for Karen.
594 reviews1,197 followers
October 4, 2019

During the time of the Holocaust...
Leah is a twelve year old Jewish girl living in Berlin in 1941. Her father, a doctor, has recently been murdered and she lives with her mother and her grandmother who is old and bedridden.
Wanting her daughter’s survival more then anything else.. Leah’s mother seeks out help from a rabbi to create a golem to love and protect her daughter on a journey away from Berlin to France.. as she must stay put to take care of her own mother.
The golem, “Ava” is a big part of the story (the magical realism) but there are many characters mostly younger preteen and teenagers on the run from Berlin and Paris due to the horrors taking place.
This story had some really great characters and some (new to me) facts about these days in history..as other readers have mentioned.. I was finding myself googling a lot of different places, etc.
So.. this is a story of evil, resistance, enduring love, and some magic!
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
July 27, 2020
I just love when books surprise and excite me and this one certainly bowled me over. A beautifully crafted historical fiction story with a mix of magic realism and history.

I had dismissed this book as I sometimes struggle with magic realism in stories. But while browsing in a bookshop on a weekend away recently, I became intrigued by the premise. This is the story of a young Jewish girl called Lea who is sent away from Berlin during the Second World by her adoring mother. As her daughter is only 12 years old she needs a companion to protect her and seeks help from a rabbi to conjure a mystical Jewish creature to watch over her child. The rabbi's daughter Ettie helps her and together they create a female golem named Ava who’s sole purpose is to accompany and watch over Lea on her escape out of Berlin to safety of relatives in Paris.

I fell in love with the characters and became immersed in the story from the very first chapter. I love books that are set during WWII and while I have read quite a few on the subject, this one was totally unique but sensitive to the realities of the time. I wasn’t sure that the magical realism element of the story would work here. But it’s so beautifully woven into the plot that even I who can be quite picky when it come to magical elements found this story of good versus evil just devastating but gripping and unputdownable.

I have only read The Marriage of Opposites (which I loved) by this author so I have to take a look at her previous novels to see what else might suit me.

So glad I purchased a copy of this novel as it’s another one for my real life bookshelf.

I think if you enjoyed books like The Snow Childor The Book Thief might love this one too.
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
October 17, 2019
Hoffman begins her story in 1941, Berlin. Azrael, the angel of Death is hanging out in the trees. There are many souls for him to carry to the ‘World to Come.’ Hanni Kohn’s physician husband, Simon has been murdered on the same day he performed two life-saving surgeries. When her daughter, Lea is accosted by a German soldier, she knows she must do something to save her daughter. Hanna’s mother is bedfast and she feels she cannot leave her mother, so when a neighbor tells her about golems and the mystical rabbi who knows the magic needed for its creation, Hanni goes to seek him. The rabbi’s wife insures that she never reaches the rabbi, but his daughter, Ettie knows all her father’s spells. Hanni agrees to give Ettie jewels, with which Ettie can buy tickets out of Berlin for herself, and her sister, Marta. Ettie knows they are no longer safe in Berlin. In exchange, Ettie will bring forth a golem for Hanni, whose express purpose will be to protect Lea and deliver her to safety. Then, having served her purpose, the golem is to be exterminated. Lovely word, isn’t it, considering the context?

Hoffman’s narrative is clothed in the language of mythology. The golem is from Jewish folklore, an animated being created from mud and clay. Azrael belongs to Islam as well as Judaism, an archangel who is instrumental in the great transition from life to death. Ava, the golem in this story, becomes infatuated with a heron, who appears and carries messages back and forth between Lea and Julien, a Jewish boy that Lea meets in Paris. As an animal totem, the blue heron is a fascinating animal, “symbols of balance and representing the ability to progress and evolve. The longer the legs, the deeper the water he can feed in, reflecting the deeper life that can be explored.” (1) Hoffman’s heron stands nearly as tall as a man. He can see Ava for who she is, which is a true gift. Not many humans can manage that.

For me, Ava, is the most interesting character in this story. She is not supposed to have emotions, but right away, it is obvious that she does, although they are not always appropriate, or the emotions that I think most humans would be having. Like fear. In the middle of horrific and harrowing events, Ava is noticing the green countryside, hearing the birds, and feeling grateful to her maker. Fear and sadness are noticeably missing. Ava makes me think that our evolutionary history leans too heavily toward fear and anxiety. Those were the ones however that kept us alive, and without them, maybe we wouldn’t even be here to have a history. Hoffman has created this magical being, a golem, who is supposed to die when Lea is delivered to safety. She does not want to die. Ava wants to live! What does Hoffman want from this juxtaposition of Ava noticing the beauty all around her and the desolation that surrounds her and Lea? The bleak to look bleaker? The living to look more alive? There is a definite beauty in it. I can feel and sense Ava’s attachment to life and to beauty. Hoffman does not shy away from the tragedies but probes them with the deft touch of an insightful author. I think Hoffman means to throw us there up against the wall of this hard thing (needless death, cruelty), to make us see the beauty of nature in the world even when men go about doing evil, how the miracles of life are still all around us in the midst of ugly and tragedy, suffering and fearsome troubles. Hoffman’s writing is gorgeous, often poetic prose, filled with quotable language that makes me want to reflect on loss and tragedy and the mysterious beauty and love that appears in the most unlikely places, that arises from the heart and gives one enough hope to survive.

Profile Image for Sandysbookaday .
2,051 reviews2,107 followers
October 7, 2019
EXCERPT: Her father was a great rabbi, but she was the one who had a true talent. For the thousandth time she wished she were a boy. She had no interest in marriage or babies, only in the world of scholars, from which she was prohibited. She could taste the bitter dirt as they finished digging, and she nearly choked on it. It occurred to her that once she broke the rules of her family and her faith, there would be no going back. But on this morning, all she knew was that she wanted to live.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: 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.

MY THOUGHTS: 'Once upon a time something happened that you never could have imagined, a spell was broken, a girl was saved, a rose grew out of a tooth buried deep in the ground, love was everywhere, and people who had been taken away continued to walk with you, in dreams and in the waking world.'

This is a book that can't be buttonholed into one or even two categories. Historical, magical, fantasy, love, family drama doesn't even begin to describe The World That We Knew.

The author's introduction is one of the most moving that I have read. Please don't skip it. It tells how this book was born. And the relationship between fairytales and real life. If you don't think there is one, then you really do need to read it.

The magical aspects of Hoffman's writing does nothing to dilute the horrors of the Holocaust; in fact, if anything, it heightens the inhumanity of man against man. She writes beautifully and lyrically about one of the darkest periods in the history of man, holding nothing back, but always there is hope that shines like a beacon.

I was a history student, and WWII was one of my pet subjects, but I have learned more from Hoffman's writing than I ever did in school. It is far easier to relate to and has far greater significance when it is on a more personal level.

I finished The World That We Knew last night and I have written a dozen reviews in my head during the day, all of which were far more eloquent and reflective than this. I had highlighted dozens of passages in an effort to capture the essence of this book. But after reading and rereading them, I stayed with the first; the one that says 'all she knew was that she wanted to live.' There is no greater desire in life than to live and to keep your loved ones safe. 'If you are loved, you never lose the person who loved you. You carry them with you all your life.' And the reverse is true, that if you love someone, you can never lose that person. You carry them with you all your life. And that, to me, is the essence of The World That We Knew; the magic of love.


THE AUTHOR: Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew, The Rules of Magic, The Marriage of Opposites, Practical Magic, The Red Garden, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and The Dovekeepers. Her most recent novel is The World That We Knew. She lives near Boston.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The World That We Knew for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system, please refer to my Goodreads.com profile or the about page on my webpage sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and my webpage https://sandysbookaday.wordpress.com/...
Profile Image for Ceecee.
2,083 reviews1,661 followers
October 18, 2019
This is not my usual genre but in the capable hands of someone of the calibre of Alice Hoffman you know it’s going to be an interesting read. This is a very moving story of love and survival. As the cruel yoke of Nazism tightens via the Nuremberg Laws and thereafter the Final Solution in Germany and conquered Europe, Hanni Kohn in Berlin decides she has to save her daughter Lea by any means. Hanni is brave and fearless and she tries to teach Lea to be a ‘wolf’. . Hanni employs all the magic at her disposal to ensure that Lea gets out of Germany. There is a wonderful image of Hanni sprinkling her coat with an invisibility mixture as she seeks help for Lea to create a golem to protect her and get her out of Berlin. The story traces Lea’s journey out of Germany and into France as she tries to evade capture. At times the danger is palpable, the writing is beautiful, emotional and very powerful. This is a novel about strength and endurance against evil, in particular female strength. All the female characters are strong - Hanni, Lea, Ava, Ettie and Marianne and I felt invested in their survival. The male characters that stand out are brothers Julien and Victor. They encounter things that can only be described as horrific and most of the incidents are based on historical fact which blends really well into the storytelling. The author has clearly researched very widely in order to write this moving tale.
This is a wonderfully written story with some beautiful imagery. Who could not love Ava dancing with the heron or the appearance of angels, some protective and Azriel, the harbinger of death. This is a book principally about love - Hanni for Lea, Lea for Julien, Marianne for Victor, Ava for Lea and the heron, Ettie for her sister. It’s also about love of life as the characters strife to survive and help others to do so. The cruelty beggars belief especially the actions of Klaus Barbie as described towards the end of the book. The ending is not what I expected but I liked it. This is a fantastic book which will stay with me for a long time.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Shuster for this ARC
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
September 21, 2019
3.5 stars

I have such mixed feelings about The World That We Knew. Magic realism works for me sometimes. In fact, on occasion it has blown me away. But I found the magic in this book confusing and jarring, and I’m not sure why. Especially since in many ways this is a very powerful book.

The story is set during World War II, and starts in Germany where a Jewish mother enlists the help of a rabbi’s daughter to make a Golem who will get her 12 year old daughter safely to France to live with some relatives. The rest of the story takes place in France, focusing on a handful of characters, including the daughter, the Rabbi’s daughter and Ava (the Golem). I loved the parts in which Ava did not feature. Hoffman brings to life the mix of terror and will to live of her young characters. And the writing is beautiful. But, oy, the Golem! What can I say? I struggled with magic playing a role in a story set during such an atrocious period of history. I struggled to understand the Golem’s meaning – was she meant to be a metaphor? If so, representing what? The funny thing is that Ava soon becomes just one of the characters in the book, and the spotlight was often focused on other characters. So I could mostly focus on what I loved about the book without being too bothered by the Ava.

But that’s my reaction. I read this one as a monthly buddy read with Diane and Angela. They both loved it, and I’m grateful to them for giving me insight into how they understood the role of the Golem. I didn’t feel it as I read it, but in the end I think I understood and appreciated it more. So take my views with a grain of salt. I suspect many people will love this powerful beautifully written story.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for giving me access to an advance copy.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews326 followers
September 27, 2020
I’ve come to understand that fairy tales are perhaps the most autobiographical of all stories, containing the deepest psychological truths…Each one is a cautionary tale…Fairy tales tell us that we may be lost, we may be forsaken, but there is a path. Alice Hoffman

Just when you think no one can find a new way to write about WWII, in steps Hoffman and delivers a mystical story full of characters who will steal your heart and strip your emotions straight to raw bone. Of all of the stories of this horrific time in human history, I can’t remember a story where I felt so in touch with every character. I felt the fear, despair, anger, anguish, all of it. But I also felt the love. Parents for their children, strangers for those in need and the love of the author for the stories that must be told.

I wasn’t completely absorbed in the writing to begin, but at the recommendation of a friend I switched to the audio version and it was riveting. So immersive was the experience that after some chapters, I would walk away for days because it was all too vivid, too agonizing. I would come back only because I had to know how these characters I’d come to care about went on.

There are gorgeous reviews for this book, I know I’m not reviewing as much as pouring out feelings, but after all is said and done, that’s what I was left with. A pervasive feeling of sorrow for those whose voices were silenced, but also a feeling of profound gratitude for the authors who continue to remind us that their stories need to be told over and over so that we never forget. Poetic and powerful.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,229 reviews2,731 followers
September 26, 2019
Hanni Kohn couldn’t leave Berlin as her elderly mother was unable to travel, but Hanni was determined to get her twelve-year-old daughter Lea to safety. It was 1941 and the Nazis were swooping, removing all Jews, sending them on the trains to the death camps. But the rabbi Hanni saw wouldn’t help her – Ettie, his daughter quietly told Hanni she could do it; she’d seen and heard all that she needed to know. The golem would be created. And Hanni begged Ettie to make the golem a woman, to be more able to care for Lea. And so Ava came into being, joining her life with that of Lea and her maker, Ettie.

Lea and Ava entered the Levi household in Paris where they came to know Julien and his brother Victor. The maid, Marianne had recently left the household, so Ava took over her role. But danger crept closer, and Ava and Lea once again moved on. Lea begged Julien to stay alive, not knowing if they would see one another again. Meanwhile Ettie was in hiding; the French resistance, including Victor, was operating fiercely, saving who they could; and the collaborators and Nazis did their worst.

The World That We Knew is a memorable piece of writing by Alice Hoffman. The beautiful heron, friend and confidant of Ava, would play a significant role in this story, while the mystical Ava, more human than she was supposed to be, was devoted to her charge. The characters of Lea and Ettie were each spectacularly crafted, while Julien, Victor and Marianne all found a place in my heart. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful story where fact is blended with fiction and magic, while hope, love, courage and loss all play a part. Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
October 24, 2019
When looking for a book that seamlessly combines mysticism, Jewish folklore, magic, and reality, one should look no further than an Alice Hoffman book. In this, her newest book, Ms Hoffman combines a tale of magic with a story of the Holocaust and creates a narrative that is spellbinding and emotional.


“If you are loved, you never lose the person who loved you. You carry them with you all your life.”

As a parent, we always want to keep our children safe. I think as a mother it is an intrinsic part of our DNA to want to nurture and save our children from the inherent dangers of the world we live in. So it was for Hanni Kohn, whose daughter, Lea is in danger. For this is a family of Jews, and the tempest of what is to be are blowing their ill winds in their direction. How can Hanni save her beloved daughter though is the issue but when she goes to a well known rabbi seeking help, it is his daughter, Ettie, who provides the path to embark upon. For it is Ettie who is able to create a golum, made of clay and breathed into this world as a woman, whose purpose is to protect and defend Lea. It is a time of great sorrow for the Holocaust is upon them and Jews are being rounded up at all hours of the day and night to be transported and eventually exterminated.

The stoy centers on three women, Ana, the created golum charged with Lea's protection, Lea, and Etti. Lea and Ana travel to a convent from Paris where Lea meets a young boy she is destined to love. Ana also meets something to love in the form of a heron, who comes to her bidding and dances with Ana in the moonlight. They fall in love as well, the perfect blending of the mystical and the beauty of this glorious bird who does Ana's bidding. Etti, meanwhile is in hiding until the time comes for her to be the fighter she is destined to be.

This is indeed a riveting tale, one where death is around every corner, where the loss of a mother is so intertwined with a young life being led. It is the story of the mystical, the magical, and most of all the ability to feel that in so much loss, there is and can be happiness. Stay alive is the goal. Be someone to witness the tragedies. Be a reminder of what a world full of hatred can do, but most of all remember from where you came, who you are, and how through the love of a mother the magical became reality and the love was passed from a creature created from clay to a daughter made of flesh and blood.

A truly remarkable story that will appeal to those who find magic in life and love, and the healing that comes from where and when we least expect it. Do yourself a favor and do not miss this book. It will, in all its sadness, make you happy to be a witness to this story.
My review and an interview with the author can be found here:
Profile Image for Paige.
152 reviews300 followers
July 6, 2019
I have to admit that I was ambivalent about the description of this novel, but I was completely swept off of my feet. From the first line, you are pulled into the world painted by Alice Hoffman. Yes, this is historical fiction with a splash of magical realism; and yes, it is awesome. This book is filled with insightful quotes, and will saturate you with sensibility and nostalgia.

From the involvement of the Huguenots, Jewish resistance groups, Operation Spring Breeze, etc., I was blown away by the amount of history she incorporated. I would say that there is more history surrounding the characters in this novel than fantasy. While this novel does bare magic, the story revolves around the setting in history.
The fantasy advances the internal conflict within the social setting of Germany and France itself while magical realism vividly paints this picture over the atmosphere of WWII that have never been put into words before. Beasts, angels, and fate contribute to the blanket of symbolism and metaphorical environment of Nazi occupied territories.

I did not enjoy when the golem is made in the beginning. The creation itself seemed to unnecessarily drag on and it almost made me want to stop reading. However, it was only for a chapter, although a tiresome long chapter. This was minute and not enough to take off a star.
If you like WWII novels, I recommend adding this to your list.
Thank you to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster, and Alice Hoffman for giving me the opportunity to read and review this novel. The opinions in this review are my own.
Profile Image for Stacey B.
321 reviews83 followers
June 8, 2021
This Is Not A Review Of The Book.

This is a response to the person(s) who trolled me with images of vicious and cruel anti-semitic slurs and comments.
Your intention to scare and make me vulnerable worked. You succeeded at first, but only for a brief moment.
You purport the Holocaust never happened, while also suggesting that survivors of WW2 all fabricated similar testimonies. It is the single most documented piece of history in the world today. Nazi's don't deny the Holocaust; when in fact, were proud of their crimes.
The truth of the atrocities shock those that are unaware of the depth of it's evil.
If I didn't challenge you, I would fail at honoring the memory of the millions who did not survive.
If I did not challenge you by saying nothing; you win.
To those who continue to play a role in that past history; you know exactly, why so many books have been written on this subject.
" The schools will fail through their silence, the Church through it's forgiveness,
and the home through the denial and the silence of parents.
The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell."
-Simon Wiesenthal
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
November 20, 2019
3 🧞‍♀️ 🧞‍♀️ 🧞‍♀️
WWII/Holocaust historical fiction too heavy with mysticism and magic for my reading palate which made it read like coming of age prose not sure if it wanted to be YA or adult material.
I'm usually a Hoffman fan but except for her trademark lovely descriptive way with words, this one was not for me. I'm drinking alone with this one and should have followed my early gut instincts about it.
Profile Image for Krista.
831 reviews62 followers
September 29, 2019
Rating: 5 wondrous stars

I finished this amazing book a few days ago, and just wanted to sit in the afterglow of the story before trying to put my feelings about the book into a review. This book tackles a horrible era in world history with grace and imagination. It’s not a ‘La-La-La Happy All the Way’ story. In fact, it’s pretty bleak all the way. However, it is such a wonderfully creative book. I was pulled deeper into its depths with each page, and left stunned by the beauty of the book by the ending. With ‘The World That We Knew’, Alice Hoffman has written a modern classic.

I’ve read many non-fiction and historical fiction books about WWII and the Holocaust. This one is so unique. Ms. Hoffman blends Jewish traditions with magical realism to bring forth a golem at the beginning of the story. I was skeptical when I read this element on the book blurb, but this character works so well in the book. I’m glad that it was included. I grew to love Ava as much as each of the other characters. She was not at all what I was expecting a golem to be.

We initially meet Hanni Kohn and her 12-year-old daughter Lea as they are trying to survive in a Berlin, Germany that is becoming ever more dangerous for Jews. Hanni will do anything to protect her daughter, including imploring help from the rabbi’s daughter, Ettie to form a creature meant to protect Lea on her journey out of Berlin. The creature, Ava’s sole purpose to protect Lea until the end of the war.

We are then taken along on Lea and Ava journey. Not coincidentally, Ettie and her sister are on the same train leaving Berlin that Ava and Lea are on. From that train journey the stories diverge and intertwine again. New characters and situations are added that illuminate the growing carnage wrought by the Nazi’s in France and across Europe. The complete randomness of who survives and who doesn’t is explored. We also meet brave souls who risk it all as Resistance fighters. We see good citizens who help the Jews escape, and Germans who luxuriate in their power and cruelty.

That’s all of the plot outline that I’m going to provide. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book as soon as you can. It’s a love story, it’s a war story, it’s a fantasy in some parts, but it all works so well together. I’m standing up now to applaud Alice Hoffman. Well done!

‘Thank-You’ to NetGalley; the publisher, Simon & Schuster; and the author, Alice Hoffman; for providing a free e-ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Glenda.
287 reviews172 followers
July 28, 2019
Five stars for sure. This was a beautiful book. Even throughout reading about the brutality of the era, unconditional love, loyalty, and bonds between those in need were evident. World War II was a horrific time. Horrible things happened. This book will be hard to read for some.

The magical realism is well represented and a genre that I have never explored. I had to stop and research a lot of the book, but I learned a great deal in doing so.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone, although it will no be for everyone.

You may see my reviews at www.travereadlove.blog

I want to thank Netgalley, the Publisher and Ms. Hoffman for an opportunity to read this ebook in exchange for my honest review. All opinions here are my own.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
915 reviews
August 16, 2020
A beautiful, heartfelt story that will stay with me for a long time. Ever since I read Faithful in 2016 and Dovekeepers in 2017, Alice Hoffman has been one of my favourite authors. She has not disappointed me yet. Actually she continues to "knock my socks off" with her exceptional writing skills.

This World War II story has magical realism added to the horrors and evil encountered by humankind. The fairytale quality explains the sorrow, hardships, and devastation of real life, "but also assure us that once upon a time there was a woman or a girl who managed to rescue herself." This made the story more memorable for me.

I will remember "Lea, a young girl who is sent away from Berlin to ensure she will survive; Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, who is as brave in the real world as she is in the world of magic; and Ava, a mythic being whose only purpose is to protect the stranger who affects her life in ways she could not have imagined."
-part in quotations from the author in her letter to the reader at beginning of book

In addition to the three mentioned above, I cared deeply for brothers Julien and Victor, who lived in Paris, France; Marianne, their housemaid; Marianne's father; and Dr. Gerard, who was a kind, honest, gentle and caring man. I feared for Victor, Ettie, Marianne's dad and Marianne when they joined the resistance.

I highly recommend this amazing book!

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for a digital ARC of this book. Although I was kindly provided with a digital copy, I chose to listen to the unabridged audiobook The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman and read by Judith Light. All thoughts expressed here are my own.


Posted on GoodReads, NetGalley, Savvy Reader, Twitter
Profile Image for Holly.
203 reviews69 followers
October 19, 2019
I loved this thought-provoking, beautifully written work about survival and the Holocaust. The story is captivating with engaging characters that will find their way into your heart. Hoffman, a well-known prolific writer with 30+ books to her credit, effectively utilizes Jewish mysticism and folklore to drive the story. The World That We Knew is about the lengths a mother will go to protect her child and it is also about love, loyalty, loss, survival, and hope.

In order to protect her daughter from the Nazis, Hanni enlists the help of a rabbi’s daughter to create a golem whose sole purpose is to ensure that her young daughter Lea stays alive while she makes her way traveling to safety. The World That We Knew is primarily about three women — Ettie (a Rabbi’s daughter), Lea (a young girl), Marianne (a young housemaid and farm girl). There is also a fourth “women” — Ava the golem. The lives of these three (or four) women are interconnected and for the backbone of the narrative. These characters are strong, complex and well-developed, even the “soulless” golem. The reader cannot help but emotionally connect with these characters and fear for their safety.

This book raises many important questions that are left for the reader to ponder. How do you fight evil? Is evil necessary to fight evil? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to have a soul? How do you cope with loss?

...perhaps a demon was needed to fight demons. Perhaps some sins were prayers sent up to the Almighty.

If a soul was formed by meaning and purpose, did not every blade of grass have a soul, for each had a purpose.

This is what grief was, she understood that now. It was never-ending and you carried it with you. You could not stop it or regret it, you could only keep it close to your heart.

While there is sadness and a sense of tragedy that seeps through the words time and time again, there is also hope and love. Good/kindness and evil are juxtaposed throughout the story. Furthermore, love is the thread that connects these characters and their stories - love of life, love of nature, love of animals, a mother’s love, romantic love, and love for others trapped in hell.

The magical realism makes this book special and its presence helps the reader somewhat to get through some of the tragic, gut-wrenching and heartbreaking moments. Furthermore, it sets this book apart from many of the other Holocaust-related historical fiction stories. Note that the presence of mysticism does not diminish the atrocities and horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazis.

The writing itself is lyrical and magical, making me savor every word. The imagery is wonderful and the story flows beautifully.

That was how evil spoke. It made its own corrupt sense; it swore that the good were evil, and that evil had come to save mankind. It brought up ancient fears and scattered them on the street like pearls. To fight what was wicked, magic and faith were needed. This was what one must turn to when there was no other option.

He could not claim to know what a soul was, or who possessed it. But he knew that a dove mourned its young, and a dog yearned for its master, and a man who lost his wife never truly recovered, and love that was given was never thrown away.

This was how life was, tragic and unexplainable. When you were young you were afraid of ghosts, and when you were aged you called them to you.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,273 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.