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The World That We Knew    by Alice Hoffman order for
World That We Knew
by Alice Hoffman
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alice Hoffman's The World That We Knew inserts a creature of fantasy, a golem, into a heartbreaking Holocaust tale. It opens in 1941 Berlin. Hanni Kohn's physician husband is killed by thugs, and death camp deportations have begun. Hanni will not leave her own paralyzed mother, but is determined to safeguard her twelve-year-old daughter Lea from the Nazis.

The child could not escape on her own, so Hanni takes a desperate step. She seeks help from a rabbi known to have experimented with golems. Though the rabbi refuses, his very talented teen daughter Ettie has watched his work and learned. She makes the golem, Ava, who is sworn to protect Lea, whatever it takes. In return, Hanni gives Ettie the means to attempt an escape herself, along with her beloved sister.

Tragedy strikes again and again. There are separations and reunions and more than one of the travelers meets a soulmate (the love between Ava and her heron is the most remarkable and touching). There is also an ethical dilemma for Lea, whose mother has made her swear to kill Ava, once she is safe. This becomes very hard as Ava has steadily grown into her humanity as well her her power - what will Lea do?

That question, as well as care for the trials and tribulations of different characters (as they run, hide, make their way through France, and work for the underground), pulls readers' interest through this brilliant, gripping and heart wrenching novel. The World That We Knew is both a coming of age and a coming into humanity in a world that seems devoid of the latter. Very highly recommended!

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