In 1941 Berlin, the Nazis are persecuting German Jews, and widow Hanni Kohn makes the terrible choice to send her 12-year-old daughter, Lea, to occupied France to try to protect her. With the help of Ettie, a rebellious daughter of a rabbi, Hanni secretly creates a golem, a mystical creature made of clay and other elements, who will stay with Lea and protect her when Hanni cannot. Alice Hoffman weaves a rich tapestry of the overlapping lives of these women, and those who love them, in her powerful novel, The World That We Knew.
Hoffman (The Rules of Magic) begins her narrative with Hanni and the desperate steps she takes to save Lea, most notably creating Ava, the golem. But when Lea and Ava must leave Berlin, the focus shifts to their journey as they try to survive the war and care for one another. At a safe house in Paris, Lea meets a young man named Julien, whose fortunes will later overlap with Ettie's in surprising ways. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding after a harrowing escape attempt, determined to wreak vengeance on the Nazis for what they took from her. Hoffman explores her characters' motivations for their desperate actions: revenge, fear, a desperate survival instinct, loyalty and, ultimately, love.
Powerful and moving, Hoffman's novel winds between the streets of Paris and lonely country roads, swinging between unimaginable fear and torture and small, quiet acts of courageous kindness. The world may be shifting under Lea's and Ava's feet, but the universe Hoffman creates, though dark, is shot through with light and hope. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams