Alice Hoffman has long been a favorite of my offspring. So, when I saw The World That We Knew perched on the new arrivals at the local library I picked it up. I am so glad that I did. The book is moving.
World War II
The Second World War is the backdrop of Hoffman’s novel. The story opens in Berlin. A mother is torn between getting her 12 year old daughter to safety outside of Germany and honoring her duties to her own mother. In the end she stays in Berlin while arranging for the safe passage of her young daughter.
The safety factor is a golem. This mystical creature of Jewish lore is created by the daughter of a revered rabbi. Ettie is the rabbi’s daughter. She violates many traditions creating the golem. The price she charges is two train tickets so she and a younger sister can also flee the Nazi’s.
The World That We Knew
Ettie and her sister and young Lea and her guardian golem leave their old world behind. The novel follows their separate paths until they again merge. The reader experiences the terrors of the Third Reich through these protagonists. But the characters that will steal your heart are the Levi brothers.
Hoffman shows how class systems and age differences break down during wars. Furthermore, she explores the responsibilities of parents and the connections made by blood and love. Each character, including that of the golem, face soul-searching decisions. Life or death decisions. The World That We Know explores how often sheer chance weighs into decision making.
Good vs. Evil
Finally, the novel showcases good vs. evil. The Nazi’s were truly evil and Hoffman makes that clear. But, she also shows the struggles of those who are inherently good when they choose immoral actions to combat the evil.
I know there are many novels on the market with World War II as the setting. This is an excellent account. It is fiction, but I believe the book portrays the resistance in France accurately. The World That We Know is a worthy addition to any library, public or private.