Alice Hoffman puts a little bit of magic into her newest book, The World That We Knew (2019). The Holocaust is not usually where writers include fantasy elements, yet France from 1941-1944 is the backdrop for this work of magical realism. “In a world where anything could happen and nothing was impossible” a Golem monster was created. A Golem is a creature created out of mud and brought to life with a Hebrew word written upon it. In The World that We Knew a young girl breaks from tradition and creates a female Golem.
The story has accurate historical details about Nazi occupied France. Only a small part of the book is the story of the Golem and her love affair with a Heron. The fantasy element is the best part of the book, although the plot of Orthodox Jewish sisters trying to escape, secular Jewish brothers trying to resist, and a Christian Housekeeper just trying to stay human is a compelling on it’s own.
In an essay by Hoffman included in the back of the book, she says that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is based on the Golem from Jewish Folklore. This imagining of the Golem involves feminism, and gets to the very essence of who is human. This is a unique telling of a Holocaust story.