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.
The World That We Knew is a historical fiction novel set at the beginning of World War 2 in Germany and France. It’s a novel that dances between reality and fantasy, with the interweaving of fantasy, and implementation of spirits and angels making this a beautifully poetic read.
The story starts in a ghetto in Germany, where three generations of women are trying to survive with increasing constraints on their behaviour and dwindling human rights. The youngest girl, Lea narrowly escapes being raped by a Nazi soldier which is the catalyst for her mother Hanni deciding to seek help in the supernatural. Hanni creates a golem (a Jewish magical creature made from clay which appears human, but without a soul) which is instructed to guide Lea to safety to hide out with cousins in Paris. If you are new to fantasy, as I was, this is a superb place to start. As Hoffman has evidently researched this period of time and place to the nth degree, it really is a brilliant juxtaposition between the harshness of this time period’s reality and the hopefulness of magic.
From the very first sentence I was in love with this book, “If you do not believe in evil, you are doomed to live in a world you will never understand.” Hoffman’s writing is absolutely exquisite from beginning to end. This is a coming of age story and the growth of the characters is sublime. Hoffman moves between characters perspectives with incredible ease and sophistication.
The World That We Knew is written as if we are in a dream, mixing imagination with reality and a sprinkling of fairy dust in visualisations such as this, “She then helped with the bees, dressing in white with a net over her head. She dreamed of the hum of their buzzing when they surrounded her on summer days, their feet dusted with pollen so that they left traces of yellow and green on her shoulders and arms.”
I will tell everyone I know to read this story so that I can further discuss its exquisite intricacies. It has spoken to my soul through romantic verses and divine visualisations. It’s a story which you will need to read slowly and multiple times, to savour the depth and complexity of its beauty. The World That We Knew is nothing short of a masterpiece.
About 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. She lives near Boston.