In Berlin, during the spring of 1941, Hanni Kohn’s husband, Simon, is murdered in front of the Jewish Hospital, where he worked as a surgeon. Bereft, Hanni moves through the city under the cover of darkness, finding food in garbage bins and selling everything of value that she owns. She is committed to saving her daughter, Lea, from the camps. Eventually, Hanni strikes a deal with Ettie, the brilliant daughter of a rabbi. For a price, Ettie creates a female golem named Ava. Ava takes Lea out of Germany to cousins in France, while Hanni stays behind. In The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman has written a novel that is charged with magical realism, but framed in the history of the French Resistance during the German occupation. It is an extraordinary and affirming reading experience from the hands of a master.
Maureen Millea Smith is a librarian at the Edina Library and a Minnesota Book Award-winning author.