Wow… This book is both tragic and beautiful, surreal and very, very real. It was my first time reading a book by Alice Hoffman, and at first I wasn’t sure magical realism and WW2 we’re going to mix well. I was wrong. Very wrong. I finished it over a week ago and still can’t stop thinking about it. I literally haven’t been able to start another book yet because I am still swimming through the after effects that this book has on me!
The World That We Knew is the story of a mother who goes to such extreme lengths to save her daughter that she creates another being, a golem who will protect her daughter in ways that she never would be able to. It then becomes a story of survival in Nazi Germany and then in occupied France, the story of being hunted, and standing up against the occupier. From 1941 to the end of the war we follow Lea, Julien, and Ava’s lives, as well as those intricately tied to them, like Marianne and Victor. The story is based in France for the main part, in areas not far from where I grew up (south east), and I am very familiar with the terrain as well as the resistance groups, the maquis, and the safe houses described. The characters have so much to fight and live for, all the while knowing that they may not survive another day in a world that wants their death.
The World That We Knew could have ended up being a weird mix of Kabbalah, spiritualism, war, resistance, survival, and magic. But instead, in my opinion, turned into a beautiful story of love and survival against all odds. I have read so many WW2 novels, and historical fiction written about that time, especially in France, will always be my jam. But the market for this topic has become a little saturated with under researched and over romanticized pulpy novels. The World That We Knew is a breath of fresh air, and takes the reader to another level entirely. Alice Hoffman obviously extensively researched the resistance networks and the area she has written about, as well as mystical Judaism AND the history of the Huguenots. There is so much at play in this novel, so much information provided, but it all falls into place perfectly.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this novel!