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The World That We Knew

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  22,746 ratings  ·  3,357 reviews
In Berlin in 1941 during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman. 

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regi
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 1st 2019 by Scribner UK (first published September 24th 2019)
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Sophie I'm not sure why it needs to be spelled like in the Bible? Lea is a very common way of spelling that name in Europe. And since this novel takes place …moreI'm not sure why it needs to be spelled like in the Bible? Lea is a very common way of spelling that name in Europe. And since this novel takes place in Europe, it makes sense to not spell it in the American/English way.(less)
Carol I read her first book, Property Of, when I was 20. I am 62 now and am still reading her books as they are published. My favorite is The Red Garden. It…moreI read her first book, Property Of, when I was 20. I am 62 now and am still reading her books as they are published. My favorite is The Red Garden. It literally yanked tears from my eyes. Although magic is her predominant theme, it's her relationships between people and animals that really gets to me.(less)
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Angela M
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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 t
Nilufer Ozmekik
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 H
Elyse  Walters
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rev
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
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Will Byrnes
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
Diane S ☔
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor
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 ele ...more
Debra (having surgery will be off for a few days)
"...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 read
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-clubs, netgalley
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 rev
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 d ...more

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 Ge
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 denie
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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 o
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 ...more
Emer (A Little Haze)
This book is simply perfection.

I was utterly transfixed by the story, by these characters. My heart feels so full after reading this. I don't know how to put what I'm feeling into words.

I know for many people that magical realism can sometimes take them out of the experience of reading a novel. But here... It worked beautifully. The World That We Knew marries together mysticism with a fairytale quality and grim historical reality so that together they combine to create a symphony of purest hum
Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*
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.

Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 h ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rela
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 h
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 a ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
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
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 t
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
Glenda Ricord
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, althou
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cathrine ☯️
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.
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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 fr
Erin Clemence
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, kindle
Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel.

Release date: September 24, 2019

“The World that We Knew” tells the story and struggles of three young women during WWII. To save her daughter, Hanni knows she must send Lea away, but her mother is sick and cannot make the journey so Hanni comes up with another plan and soon, Lea and her magical guardian Ava are escaping to France. Ettie and her sister are also on the run, and when her sister is killed Ett
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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 Magic Lessons. She lives near Boston.

Articles featuring this book

There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
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“If you are loved, you never lose the person who loved you. You carry them with you all your life.” 26 likes
“When you were young you were afraid of ghosts, and when you were aged you called them to you.” 19 likes
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