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The novels you cannot put down

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, US $27.99, Pp 374, September 2019, ISBN 978-1501137570
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Harper, US $27.99, Pp 356, September 2019, ISBN 978-0062963673

Set in 1941 when World War II had just started, The World That We Knew is the story of two young brave Jewish girls — Lea and Ettie. The story begins when it becomes impossible for Jews to remain in Germany. Hanni Kohn knows that her twelve-year-old daughter — Lea — must leave Germany if she is to live. Hanni Kohn’s husband had just been killed by the Gestapo. Lea is sent to Paris, France, where is supposed to stay under the protection of a renowned rabbi. Paris has already been overrun by the Nazis. But, in France, it is the daughter of the rabbi — Ettie — who offers hope of salvation by creating a mystical Jewish creature– a golem — a magical creature that exists only in Jewish mythology. Golem was created from mud and water. Lea comes under the protection of golem. Golem is sworn to protect Lea. When Ava — the golem — comes to life, she becomes inseparable from Lea and Ettie as their fortunes cannot be separated. Lea and Ava travel to Paris where Flea meets her soulmate — 14-year-old Julien. Then they go to Western France where they visit schools, convents, and villages where thousands of Jews were saved. All this time, Ettie is hiding and training to become a fighter. She wants to avenge her sister’s murder by the Nazis. The World That We Knew is a story of loss and resistance in an evil world. In The World That We Knew, Alice Hoffman tries to understand what it means when you lose your loving mother and what it means to sacrifice for love. But most importantly, Alice Hoffman explores life in the age of the Holocaust. The World That We Knew is equally a story of a brave girl who refuses to accept limitations imposed by her gender. It is a spellbinding story of a brave girl who was a pioneer in the women’s struggle for equality. You will not be able to put this inspiring novel down before you finish it.

About the author

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952, and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York. Hoffman’s first novel, Property Of, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become Property Of.

*****

The Dutch House is set over five decades, starting in the last months of World War II when real estate developer Cyril Conroy buys a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is planning to surprise his wife, Elna, with this gift. This luxurious mansion comes fully furnished and with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) hanging on the walls, and a servant girl named Fluffy. But Elna is shocked and appalled by the luxurious mansion. She had no idea how much wealth her husband had amassed. She knew he had made some money but wasn’t sure he had become so rich. As Cyril Conroy made money with his smart investments and luck, he hid it from his family so that he could give them a surprise. But this move triggers a chain of events for a long time to come. Cyril Conroy and Elna have two children — Danny and Maeve. When Danny is three-year-old and Maeve eight-year-old, their mother goes missing, apparently left on her own. After a while, Cyril Conroy remarries. This story is narrated by Danny, who is thrown out of the house along with his older sister, Maeve by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings go back into poverty from where their father had pulled them out. The two siblings find themselves alone to face the cruel world. It is the strong bond between the two siblings that makes them strong enough to fight the world. The two siblings succeed in coming out of poverty, but they cannot leave their past behind. They are truly comfortable only when they are together and revisit their past and what they had lost. But their relationship is tested when they confront their tormenters. It is an unforgettable story of an amazing bond between two siblings who are almost haunted by their past. Ann Patchett explores the difference between who we want to be and who we really are. Written in brilliant prose, The Dutch House is a thriller and a mystery novel that is unlike all others. Ann Patchett instantly makes the reader fall in love with the two protagonists.

About the author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1990, she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. Her novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006.

 

 

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