Wednesday 16 October 2019

Book Review: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (Historical/Magical Realism)

Title: The World That We Knew
Author: Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster Australia

Publication Date: 1 October 2019
Historical/Magical Realism
ARC from Publisher


In Berlin, at the time when the world changed forever, Hanni Kohn knows she has to send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Turning to an old woman who is familiar with Jewish magic, she finds her way to the daughter of a rabbi who creates a Golem, a mystical Jewish creature sworn to protect Hanni’s precious daughter Lea.

Lea’s journey with the Golem to France is fraught with danger and raw emotion. They travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses, to a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved, to a farm where the bees never forgive.

What does it mean to lose your mother? What makes a family? How is it possible to survive cruelty and continue to love? In a life that is as unreal as a fairytale, Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew takes us on a journey of loss and resistance, good and evil, the fantastical and the mortal, to a place where all roads lead past the angel of death and love is never-ending.

The World That We Knew is one of those books over which I've had to ponder my review for a few days. I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about it. First the positives. I love magical realism and folklore, so the combination of those two elements in this story was pleasing. There were some scenes and chapters that thrilled me, sucking me into the world of the story and the characters. However, there were other moments when I found my attention slipping, my interest dropping. I wasn't sure if the Golem was supposed to be an extended metaphor. If so, it didn't quite come across for me. Ava was actually one of the characters who interested me the most, yet at times she faded into the background, which is perhaps why my attention wavered now and then. In the end, I am giving this four stars. The writing style is fluid, the idea is interesting, and the magical realism, for the most part, works well. It just didn't capture me completely enough to go to five stars.

I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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