All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

The World That We Knew
Alice Hoffman
2019, 365p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed forever, Hanni Kohn knows she has to send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Turning to an old woman who is familiar with Jewish magic, she finds her way to the daughter of a rabbi who creates a Golem, a mystical Jewish creature sworn to protect Hanni’s precious daughter Lea.

Lea’s journey with the Golem to France is fraught with danger and raw emotion. They travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses, to a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved, to a farm where the bees never forgive.

What does it mean to lose your mother? What makes a family? How is it possible to survive cruelty and continue to love? In a life that is as unreal as a fairytale, Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew takes us on a journey of loss and resistance, good and evil, the fantastical and the mortal, to a place where all roads lead past the angel of death and love is never-ending.

I have only recently become a fan of Alice Hoffman – she has written many books but I’ve only read a couple of them, having been sent some by the publisher for review in the past few years. She writes incredibly compelling stories, the sort where you lose entire hours because you’re so lost in the book. This one is set at the beginning of World War II, in Germany. Hanni knows that the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous, especially for her pretty daughter who is just 12, something that doesn’t concern soldiers. She cannot leave her paralysed mother and so she acts in desperation to send her daughter away from the danger zone. In order to do this she approaches a rabbi known for being able to create a golem, a creature of protection. The rabbi’s wife refuses to help but the rabbi’s daughter has been listening and knows what must be done. She will create the creature, which Hanni stipulates must be a woman. Someone to not just protect her daughter but care for her, love her. To be the mother that Hanni cannot be in these times.

And so Ava comes into existence. She’s created with one purpose entirely and that is to keep Lea, now known as Lillie as they escape to France, safe. And their life after that, is constantly trying to stay a step ahead of German soldiers, to avoid being rounded up and ending up on one of the trains to the death camps. As the Nazis swallow up more and more of France, Jewish people go from not being able to go to school to not being able to be seen in public on certain days, to not being able to be seen except during one hour to just being taken from their homes and herded into public places in order to be forced onto trains. As the war winds down and they face defeat it becomes being about making sure there are few left to tell the tales of what has been happening. They want to destroy all the evidence of the past five years of torture, imprisonment, segregation and other vile acts that have been committed.

I read a lot of books set during WWII. It’s a very popular time period for historical fiction and there’s such a broad scope that with all the ones I read, it rarely feels like reading the same thing more than once. This is definitely the first time I’ve read a book with so much Jewish folklore in it. I’m not super familiar with golems and I don’t think I’ve read a book with one in it before either. I don’t know a lot about Jewish folklore and even though I’ve read plenty of books about Jewish people in WWII, not many have gone into their beliefs. This is quite heavy with the magical realism, which is something I can quite enjoy in books. Everything is held together by the creation of Ava and the fact that she’s been brought into existence purely to protect Lea/Lillie, to do more than just that. To love her, to be her proxy mother when Hanni is unable to fill that role anymore. It was very heartbreaking to read about that sort of sacrifice. Hanni chooses to ‘honour her mother’, to stay with her when she cannot leave Berlin, knowing that she’s most likely condemning herself to death but it will be worth it if she can save her daughter.

Every time I read a WWII book, I’m always horrified anew at the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers in the name of the regime. And it’s also not just about that, but also about the way people turned their backs on Jewish people who used to be their friends, or dobbed in their locations to people in power in order to have them removed. In some cases it was probably fear but in other cases it’s an example of how pervasive the anti-Jewish sentiment was and how deep it was. How it became safety in numbers, an ‘us vs them’ sort of mentality where people forgot that they’d been friends or colleagues with these people just a few months or years beforehand. There’s so many instances in where they are treated worse than animals, so many instances where you realise what has happened to people from earlier in the book. Like in one part of this book, the children are spared but then later on it’s been decided that as a “kindness”, Jewish children will be able to accompany their parents on the trains, so that they might ‘be together’. I really appreciated the effort of several characters who join the resistance movement, helping spirit people over the border to Switzerland. It’s such a dangerous occupation and the risks of getting caught were probably extremely high and the consequences extremely deadly.

I really found this a very interesting and engrossing read with quite a lot of the story tugging at the heartstrings in one way or another.


Book #167 of 2019

This is the 2nd book completed for my Mate-A-Thon Challenge – read a book with 4 or more words in the title.

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Review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman
2016, 255p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl growing up on Long Island until one night a terrible road accident brings her life to a halt. While her best friend Helene suffers life-changing injuries, Shelby becomes overwhelmed with guilt and is suddenly unable to see the possibility of a future she’d once taken for granted.

\But as time passes, and Helene becomes an almost otherworldly figure within the town, seen by its inhabitants as a source of healing, Shelby finds herself attended to by her own guardian angel. A mysterious figure she half-glimpsed the night of the car crash, he now sends Shelby brief but beautiful messages imploring her to take charge of her life once more . . .

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When you lose all hope and sense of worth? Shelby, a fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookshops, and men she should stay away from, captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding oneself at last. From the bestselling author of The Dovekeepers comes this spellbinding, poignant and life-affirming story of one woman’s journey towards happiness – and the power of love, family and fate.

Alice Hoffman is for me, one of those authors. And I think all readers have them. Authors we hear about a lot, see their books around, maybe read the backs of them and think, hey that sounds awesome. I should read that! And then yet somehow, never get around to it. I even have a couple of her books on my monstrous TBR bookcase (I don’t have  a pile, I have a ginormous bookcase full of my unread books) and yet somehow, I’ve never gotten further than adding them to that collection. Faithful changes all of that.

I received it for review and was immediately drawn in by the cover, which I think is beautiful. It’s the sort of book that would stand out in a bookstore, that encourages the reader to pick it up and admire it. I added it to the small pile of books I singled out as my December pile and picked it up on the weekend. I was initially unsure of what to expect. The blurb had me intrigued but I think I might’ve had some sort of belief that Hoffman books were the complicated literary type that I struggle to read and perhaps, some of them might be. But this one was so infinitely readable that I finished it in a couple of hours and I loved it.

Shelby was just an average teenage girl, friend and confidante to the pretty and popular Helene. A terrible road accident changes everything, leaving Helene badly injured in a way that she will never recover from. Shelby suffers terrible ‘survivors guilt’, declining to leave for university, spending days dozing in her parent’s basement. She cuts herself off from everyone becoming disconnected from life. Only mysterious postcards with beautiful messages that encourage her to take charge of her life again, seem to provoke any sort of curiosity from her.

The accident occurs prior to the beginning of the book, so when the reader meets Shelby she is already well into the grips of her survivor’s guilt where she doesn’t feel as though she deserves the future that had been mapped out for her prior to the accident. She feels as though wherever she goes she is stared at, blamed and so she avoids going out in daylight hours as much as she can and alters her appearance.

Shelby’s journey of leaving that town and of forgiveness and happiness is what drives this book and although at times she does things that make you just think oh why, it’s easy to see why she does them. But she is full of this self-loathing and guilt and it takes her a long time to realise that it’s okay for her to want things for herself. To be good at something, to have friends, people who care about her and that she cares about. She ends up meeting a family through a pet store she works at, she doesn’t want to become involved in their lives, she just does. And although they have little, if anything, in common, the bond that they create is such a positive thing for them all and Shelby begins to finally find that she can belong places. She ends up rescuing animals and slowly, almost reluctantly, builds a life for herself. The postcards continue, long after she’s moved away from her parent’s home, still relevant to her life, still motivating statements that continue to bemuse her. Shelby’s mother calls the writer of the postcards Shelby’s angel and perhaps she is right. The encourage Shelby to make connections, to forgive herself, to care.

Faithful, although immensely readable for me is not always an easy book. It’s saturated with grief and there’s a lot of emotional ‘downs’, draining moments. Shelby’s journey is one of healing and acceptance that the moment of the car crash and what happened to Helene does not need to define her forever. But there are lighthearted, funny moments, deep connections (Shelby’s relationship with her mother in the latter part of the book is a definite highlight) and positivity as Shelby finally begins looking to the future and not the past.


Book #208 of 2016

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