Excerpt from The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The World That We Knew

by Alice Hoffman

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman X
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 384 pages
    Sep 2020, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Lea thought it would never end, but the soldier suddenly lurched forward, falling onto her with all of his weight, so heavy she thought she might collapse. But before he could topple them both onto the ground, her mother pulled her away. Then he dropped like a stone in a stream, sprawled out on the cement. It was his blood that smelled like fire. There was so much that it covered the pavement, spilling over their shoes. The angel on the roof had gotten what he came for and had disappeared like a cloud above them.

Hanni had known exactly what she must do when she left the store and saw the soldier with Lea. She didn't think twice. "Don't look," she told Lea.

Lea always did as her mother instructed, but not on this day, not now. She was another person. The one he had changed her into.

She saw her mother pull out a pair of shears she had stabbed into the soldier's back. His shirt was turning black with blood and his eyes had changed color. In stories, it is possible to tell who is human and who is not. But here, in their city, it was impossible to tell them apart. A demon could look like a man; a man could do unthinkable things.

Lea and her mother ran hand in hand, disappearing into the crowds of women who were so intent on finding food for their families they didn't notice the blood on the hem of Hanni's skirt or the slick black liquid on their shoes. They left footprints at first, but the blood grew thinner and more transparent, and then disappeared. When they reached their apartment building, they ducked inside, still trying to catch their breaths. There were families sleeping in the hallways, displaced from grander neighborhoods where their homes had been stolen by Germans. At night people knocked at their door to plead for food. Hanni made Hardship Soup once a week and left bowls out in the corridor for those in need, but there was never enough.

They went up three flights of stairs, stepping over strangers, hurrying as best they could. Once inside their apartment, Hanni locked the door, and the spell of the night was broken. She had murdered someone and her daughter had been a witness. She quickly slipped off her bloodied skirt, then took up the sharp scissors to cut the cloth into tiny pieces, which she burned in the stove. Lea couldn't help but think of the way the soldier had grabbed her, so fiercely she thought her ribs would shatter. She hoped that somewhere in the alley her tooth would grow into a rosebush and that every man who tried to pick one of the flowers would be left with a handful of thorns.

Out of her mother's sight, Lea took the scissors, then went along the hall to the linen closet. She sat on the floor in the dark as if she were hovering between worlds, her heart still aching. If she had died she would have been with her father, but instead she was here. It had felt so good to bite the demon. She wished she had torn him in two. She heard her mother call her name, but she didn't answer. By now Lea was certain that everything that had happened was her fault. Her long blond hair had made him notice her. She held her hair in one hand and with the bloody scissors, she began to cut. She should have been invisible, she should have never been there, she should have called out to her mother, she should have murdered him herself, she should have recognized him as a demon.

Her mother was outside the closet.

"My darling girl," she called, but Lea didn't answer. By now her hair was uneven, as short as a boy's. When Hanni opened the door to see what her daughter had done, she gasped. The floor was layered with strands of hair, brilliant in the dark.

Hanni came to sit beside her daughter. "This is their doing, not ours," she told Lea.
His eyes had been blue, then blood had filled them, then he was gone. Now he was among the demons who sat in the trees, waiting to scoop up the innocent and carry them away.

"He liked my hair."

Excerpted from The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (copyright © 2019 by Alice Hoffman). Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

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