“The One Loss I Cannot Bear…” What To Read After The World That We Knew

Alice Hoffman's The World That We Knew is a wonderful book. The story of Jewish teenagers during the Holocaust, there is a magical element in that a golem (a creature from Jewish folklore) has been made to protect one of them. If you haven't read it, you really should, and if you have, I have recommendations on what to read next.

If what attracts you to the story is the magical realism in a historical context, then another recently published novel, The Water Dancer by the acclaimed Ta-Nehisi Coates might be for you. Hiram Walker is a slave who joins the Underground Railroad, valued for a strange skill he has trouble controlling. Coates has plenty to say about the legacy of slavery, particularly how it dehumanizes both enslaved and enslaver. Also good for fans of Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow.

Ava's story is essential to The World That We Knew and her fate is especially poignant. If you like stories of golems and the ethical questions they raise, Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni might be your cup of tea. Chava, a creature made of earth, and Ahmad, a creature made of fire, must survive late-19th-century, immigrant New York and battle a demonic presence to save their communities. Plenty of colorful characters people this novel of cross-cultural affinity.

For a true tale of of Jews in the Resistance, there's The Art Of Resistance: My Four Years In The French Underground: A Memoir by Justus Rosenberg. This recent release reads like John Le Carre as Rosenberg is first sent to France by his parents, then uses his contacts and fluency in several languages to shepherd refugees (including Marc Chagall) to Spain. Rosenberg's adventures are not unlike Victor's and Julien's, and he would go on to teach literature at Bard College for decades.

Another factual take on the Resistance is Caroline Moorhead's Village of Secrets. Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon is a real place, full of Hugenot descendants who have learned to keep themselves to themselves. Led by a courageous pastor, the town and surrounding area did pretty much everything mentioned in Hoffman's novel and earned a place in Yad Vashem's Righteous Among Nations. Moorhead writes a well-paced tale of how the smallest gestures can make a difference.

Finally, there is the compelling, lyrical, stylistically complex novel of life during wartime, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Knowing her own time on Earth is limited, Liesel's mother sends her to a German village to hide in plain sight. Liesel learns to read, and to steal, allowing her foster family and another wanted person, a Jew that the family has also taken in, to survive increasingly difficult circumstances. Narrated by an unsentimental Death, this One Book, One Chicago book posits that literature can save your life.

Have more books of survival? Tell us in the comments.

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