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Date finished: August 5, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman

I seem to be in the vast minority here, but I didn’t love this book. Alice Hoffman, author of magical realism gems like Practical Magic and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, excels at weaving fantastical, enchanting tales. While The World That We Knew retains the elements Hoffman is known for, it fell flat for me and I found the narrative tedious in many respects.

At the outbreak of WWII, Jewish mother Hanni Kohn knows that she must get her daughter, Lea, out of Berlin if she’s to have any chance of survival. With an ailing mother who cannot walk, Hanni cannot accompany her daughter across the border, so she contacts a rabbi who she hopes will make her a golem, a mystical creature of Jewish lore who is sworn to protect whomever it is made for. When the rabbi refuses, his daughter Ettie does the dangerous job in his place.

The golem, named Ava, looks and acts like a human woman, but is stronger and has no feelings. She swears to Hanni to protect Lea, and soon Lea, Ava, Ettie, and Ettie’s sister, Marta, board a train to Paris where they plan to begin their lives anew under false French names.

After arriving in Paris, I had a hard time staying invested in any of the branching narratives, following Ettie on a mission for revenge or Lea and Ava as they grow closer to the French family that harbors them. The women move around France and meet new people so often that I had often forgotten characters’ names when they were mentioned again later in the book. Tragic tales of sickness and loss were sprinkled throughout the text, but often in relation to characters (the doctor, for example) to whom the reader had barely been introduced.

While I wanted The World That We Knew to combine to winning elements of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale with Hoffman’s The Foretelling, I unfortunately found myself fighting to stay interested in this story. I’d recommend other WWII stories, such as All the Light We Cannot See and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society before this one.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Photo courtesy @simonbooks (Instagram)

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