Beautifully written, this story combines 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. The mother’s love is palpable, the symbolism of the heron is effective, the research is solid and the ending is powerful. 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. This is an extraordinary portrait of the never-ending and enduring power of love. It is a lovely, mystical account of the plight of Jews as the Nazis invaded France. We know of all the loss and horror, but there’s a lot of love and kindness too displayed by the French population. Their acts of defiance and courage saved the lives of many.
Such a moving and inspiring novel. Ava is the character I loved the most. The story illustrates the constant battle waged by good against evil during WWII. Hoffman incorporates ancient Jewish mysticism in creating Ava as a female Golem. She is utterly fascinating and you will find her relationship with the Heron to be an unusual love affair. Some might find this far-flung and objectionable; however, a little research might make this clearer and essential to the story.
History: The Golem is the most famous and influential post-biblical Jewish legend. The story of the golem - the creation of an anthropoid by mystical and magical means. Retold and embellished in twentieth-century literature, art, music, drama, film, science, technology, and popular culture, the golem legend has become a metaphor for our times, a resource for applying the wisdom of the past to the perplexities of the present and the challenges of the future.
Ava's existence during WWII serves one purpose: to be a second Mother to Leah. I recommend this book and hope others will enjoy it as much as I did.
Some books are just magic...and this is one of them. Even though Hoffman is a prolific author, this is actually the first of her books I've read and what a way to begin! While I'm a bit burned out on historical fiction set during World War II, this one is definitely different. Instead of focusing on the horrors of war--although there is much of that here--it instead shows the reader the depth of love and devotion.
It centers around Lea, a young Jewish girl whose mother created a Golem--a soulless, man-made creature--to protect her before she sends Lea away from Berlin. From there we meet two sisters, two brothers, a young housemaid starting her life over, and a doctor who has lost everything. The strength of these characters is palpable and will keep you turning the pages as their story progresses. Even though this is, at times, a difficult read, it is one I would highly recommend.
I am about half way through this Holocaust / WWII novel and I am disappointed by and angry at Ms. Hoffman. I have never liked the ideas of Jewish mysticism and "magic" especially in this context. A Golem ( non-human ) is created from mud / clay - summoned to protect a girl from the Nazis. I know that magical realism is a trend - not that popular with me - but I hate it in this case. Being able to use magic to produce a protector places the onus for Jewish survival in the Holocaust upon the victims. If this resource was available then all the Jews SHOULD have saved themselves via Golems. Thus because they did not go to the right mystical source, the Jews died through their own fault. They all could have survived by using the mystical properties of their religion. There were, of course, Jewish elders who unknowingly ( or not ) helped the Nazis locate and round up Jews in their area of power. Not every Jew was honest or righteous, but as a race ( per Nazi theory ) or as as members of a religion by faith or by parentage, the Jews were not responsible for perishing in the Holocaust. There was no magic charm to save them. If only there had been. Ms. Hoffman has a Russian-Jewish immigrant grandmother. I would hope that she would not write a book with this theme..... So now I have finished the book. The Golem saves the life of the girl due to her magic origins as clay. She / it longs to be a real girl ala Pinocchio.... Someone even mentions in the later part of the book that thousands of Jews should have had Golems created to protect them. Shame on them for not doing so and losing their lives. ( sarcasm ) This novel of the holocaust could have been just as engaging without the magic. I found the thesis offensive. Kristi & Abby Tabby
Well written but too demonic for my taste. Could not finish book.
A Golem is created to protect a cherished daughter Leah in Berlin during WWII Fast paced & believable & unbearably sad the fight to survive during this dark time. The Hero's who fight and those who try to save some youths of this generation are touched on. Family! Love! Sacrifice & Survival.
Ms Hoffman used a lot of ingenuity and historical facts in writing this novel. I give her high praise for creating and intertwining the stories of Mariane, Lea, Ettie, Ava, Julien and Victor during the roundup and extermination of Jewish people during WW2. Many horrors of the war revealed and relieved making it very realistic. A touch of the supernatural adds to the power of good superseding self interest and more importantly, evil.
Alice Hoffman masterfully combines Jewish folklore with the horrifying reality of life (and death) during the Shoah. Her best work to date imo. Highly recommended given the times we live in.
“Monsters exist, but they are to few in number to be dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
Historical fiction with a touch of Jewish mysticism which centers around the French and German Jewish children hidden in the north of France during WW2. I was left breathless after reading this book. One can’t help but become emotionally attached to the characters. The author explores what drives human survival in an evil and shattered world; while, at the same time, a world full of grace and beauty. In the end, it is the essence of love that upholds us.
As a longtime fan of Alice Hoffman’s magical realism, in my humble opinion, this is her masterpiece. Exquisite and timely...read it!
Beautiful historical fiction, mixed with a touch of Judaic mysticism, The World That We Knew is the compelling story of how connected individuals survived the horrors of World War II in Europe.
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