The World That We Knew

S. & S. Sept. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9781501137570. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501137594. F
Desperate to get her 12-year-old daughter, Lea, out of 1941 Berlin, Hanni Kohn trusts Ettie, the teen daughter of a rabbi, to create a golem—a clay figure brought to life by Ettie’s magic. Unusually, Ava is shaped as a woman, and her raison d’être is to keep Lea safe. Ettie and her younger sister accompany Ava and Lea as they escape on a train to Paris. The three are separated by tragedy, and Ettie joins the French Resistance while Lea and Ava first seek shelter with distant relatives, who reluctantly take them in. The fates of the family’s teen sons Victor and Julien are soon entwined with those of Lea and Ava as they all move about France. Out of the familiar framework of the extraordinary courage and cunning it took to survive the unspeakable brutality of the Holocaust comes this moving, suspenseful story of love, decency, and fearlessness in the face of evil.
VERDICT One of America’s most brilliant novelists since her debut, Property Of (1977), Hoffman uses her signature element of magical realism to tackle an intolerably painful chapter in history. Readers know going in that their hearts will be broken, but they will be unable to let go until the last page. [See Prepub Alert, 2/24/19.]
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