Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

To celebrate Hanukkah, my family lights the menorah for eight nights; my husband makes the most delicious latkes (potato pancakes), and I have always given our children books. When shopping for books by diverse authors this holiday season, remember to include Jewish writers. Their stories aren't just for Hanukkah. We can all learn so much about the world by reading about other cultures and key moments in history. 

One of my favorite Jewish writers is Alice Hoffman, the  author of more than thirty books, many of them national bestsellers. In her 2019 novel, The World That We Knew, a twelve-year-old girl flees Nazi Germany to France with the help of a golem, a magical creature whose existence is as much a blessing as a curse. Despite this touch of magical realism, the mostly realistic narrative doesn't stray far from the facts of history.

What I found most interesting was the exploration of mysticism and female agency within the Jewish faith. I loved how Hoffman adapted patriarchal practices to give her observant female characters more freedom and power. There are also strong male characters, both Catholic and Jewish, but women and girls drive the narrative. The female golem made me rethink what it means to be human and a mother. The magical elements enhanced the story without detracting from the heroism of the French Resistance nor the horrors of the Holocaust. The writing was sublime.

Although The World That We Knew was written for adults, most of the characters are teenagers and the narrative is fast-paced and hopeful so it would crossover well to younger readers. My one and only criticism is the title is way too vague. This unforgettable book deserved a title easier to remember so write it down now. Thanks, Cathy at Main Point Books, for the book recommendation! 

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@Barrie Summy


pattinase (abbott) said...

Read a lot of her early books but not one recently.

Barrie said...

Love the menorah! I do like a book with strong female characters. I wondered about the magical realism element, but, from your review, it sounds as though it worked just fine. Thank you for this thoughtful review!

Phyllis Wheeler said...

I'm interested in this book! I love magical realism, and books for kids, so I'll order it from the library. Thanks for the tip!

Lyndi Lamont said...

This sounds like a great book, but you're right about the title. It's pretty generic. Adding this to my wish list.

Tweeted and shared on FB.

Linda McLaughlin

Jenn Jilks said...

I'll add that to my reading list. Thanks for reviewing.
Happy Hanukkah!

A Cuban In London said...

Happy Hanukkah! :-) Love the menorah. :-)

Thanks for the review. Heard of Alice but never read any of her books. I've got four on the to-read list now. :-)

Greetings from London.

thecuecard said...

Yeah Hoffman can really write a great story. I haven't read this one yet ... but I will put it on my list. Glad you liked it. Happy Hanukkah!

troutbirder said...

Well in spite of age 80 and some infirmities I'm hoping to get back into blogging again Ray/Troutbirder