Review: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

Alexis:

Despite the fact that the characters were a little too distant and one dimensional for my taste, this was still a five star read for me. Hoffman’s writing is haunting, beautiful, and lyrical. I love magical realism, and this book is a wonderful mix of magical realism, historical fiction, and folklore.

The book focuses on Lea at the beginning of WWII during the Nazi regime. Lea’s mother’s one goal is to keep her daughter safe, so she does the unthinkable: finds Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi, to create a golem, a powerful magical creature/person made from clay, who is to protect Lea at all costs.

This is a Holocaust story, and Hoffman doesn’t shy away from the horrors that the Jewish people of Europe faced. But I love the way Hoffman weaves small beauties into the story, especially with the relationship of Ava (the golem) with the heron. The heron was a beautiful symbol throughout the book. Out of all of the characters, I actually felt like I connected with Ava the most.

This is a survival story, so while I prefer to get into the heart and soul of the characters, the distant POV felt right with the atrocities the characters face in the story. Hoffman focuses on what it means to be human, and what it means to survive.

VERDICT: 5 stars

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Alexis: Read 12/10/18

This is a hard book for me to rate. The story, as are all Holocaust stories, is dark, harrowing, and resonant. This is a story of survival and love. It focuses on Lale and Gita, who manage to fall in love amidst the horrors of Auschwitz.

Parts of the novel hit me hard. It’s impossible to read a book about the Holocaust and not come away emotionally affected by it. The knowledge that this was not only based on a real historical event but also on the lives of two very real people played in the back of my mind as I read. I liked that it was written in present tense, which propels you into the story.

But how do you rate a book like this? The perspective is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Lale, as the Tattooist, has a higher position than most of his fellow prisoners. I was wholly involved in his storyline of using his position in order to barter jewelry for food, help feed other prisoners, and help save other prisoners’ lives. His feelings of revulsion at tattooing his own people conflict with his instinct to do what he must to survive.

Yet chunks of this book still fall flat. The writing style is awkward in places. Half of Lale and Gita’s relationship feels real and raw, and half feels stitled. In the “about the author” section of the book, it’s mentioned that Morris originally wrote this story as a screenplay, and this seems to fit with the style of some sections of the book. Near the end, it’s mentioned that Lale’s way of dealing with the horrors of his imprisonment is emotional detachment. This could be the reason for the stiltedness, as the writing could reflect Lale’s repressed emotions. However, I don’t think this was a purposeful choice on Morris’ part.  

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 stars