Hello, friends! Thanks for hanging in there with me as I come back from a long absence. I’ll try to be more consistent this time.
What brought me back? A lovely, haunting, heart-breaking book. Yes, it’s always a book. Throughout the past few years, books have been the treasures that keep me hopeful in uncertain times.
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman is a stunner, and I’m happy to report, one of many wonderful books I’ve run across recently.
Lea Kohn is a young Jewish girl in Berlin during the Nazi regime. Her mother, Hanni, recognizes the danger they are in but is unable to leave because of her elderly, ill mother.
To save her daughter, Hanni tracks down a Rabbi’s daughter, Ettie, who agrees to create a golem, a being known to Jewish folklore. Ettie isn’t supposed to know how to do this, what with being a girl and all, but she’s managed to keep an eye on her father and his students long enough to pick up all she needs to know. Because there are women involved, this golem, who they name Ava, is uniquely feminine.
Lea and Ava make their way to France while Ettie plots her own escape. Ava, whose life was meant to be temporary, finds that the longer her mission of keeping Lea safe, the more she clings to life, with the potential to act in her own interest rather than Lea’s, creating additional complications. Throughout, Hoffman slowly doles out the atrocities of the Holocaust as it spreads into France. The result is a story that is rich but devastating.
Hoffman brings her signature magic realism to the story and uses it to perfection. There are no ghosts in the machine to save the day, but the magical elements add a breathtaking poignancy.
In our current political climate, some of us are accused at times of being alarmists. Hoffman reminds us that the Holocaust was not a single event, but rather a gradual ending of societal norms. But this is not a political book; rather, it is a story of love, of a mother’s sacrifice, and the extraordinary will to survive.
Jane, The Factory Girl (yes, I keep changing the title–I think this one is going to stick) is coming along nicely. I hope to send it to the editor for a second round by early February. Stay tuned for future announcements of release dates.