Reading guide for The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 400 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. This novel is both historical fiction and magical realism. How does Alice Hoffman achieve her unique writing style? What details does she use from each genre? What do each add to the emotional content of the story?
  2. After reading the novel, re-examine the title. Consider who "we" refers to in relation to the story and to your own life.
  3. How do you feel about Ava's relationship with the heron? Has an animal ever affected your spiritual life? Are emotions bound to human experience?
  4. In one of the darkest periods of human history, why do the characters still yearn to live even as the world is falling apart? What makes life precious? Is it love, family, memory, hope?
  5. In fairy tales, beasts are often humane, and humans are often cruel. In The World That We Knew the same is true. Discuss this theme in the novel and in your favorite fairy tales.
  6. Julien and Victor Levy are brothers with very different paths. How does each handle their wartime experience? What do they share despite their differences, and what aspects of their past influences them most?
  7. Marianne initially leaves her father's farm "to find something that belonged to her and her alone" (99), which leads her to Paris. Despite ending up where she began, do you think she has achieved this goal? Why or why not? Did her love story surprise you? What do you think the future holds for her?
  8. We learn halfway through the book that Hanni instructed her daughter to destroy Ava once Lea is brought to safety. Why do you think Lea defies her mother? Do you think she made the right decision? What may have changed her mind?
  9. The book begins with Hanni making a great sacrifice to save her daughter and ends with Ava doing the same. What do these women share? Is it possible to love someone else's children as if they were your own?
  10. Ava is a golem, a mysterious creature of Jewish legend, controlled by her maker and created to do another's bidding, but something changes. She longs for free will. Do you think she finds it?
  11. Ettie yearns to be a scholar and a rabbi, but because she's female these goals are unavailable to her. How does she create her own fate, and what leads her to rebel against the constraints of gender and history? Does war create opportunities for women to act outside of conventional roles?
  12. Lea's mother's voice is heard throughout the novel in the italicized sections. The loss of a mother and the loss of a child is central to the story. How are the long-lasting effects of loss woven through the novel?
  13. Can Ava posses a soul due to her ability to love? How does love change a world of hate, and how does it affect the characters in the novel?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. To explore Jewish mysticism read Isaac Baschevis Singer's The Golem, a more traditional telling of the story with male protagonists, then write your own golem story.
  2. Using the map at the front of the book, make copies and trace the routes each of the main characters take throughout the story. Use different colors for each character, and make note of where their paths converge and diverge.
  3. Try making your own recipe for Hardship Soup using favorite family ingredients. Share at your next book group discussion. You can invent Ava's recipe for bread, again using your preferred ingredients.
  4. Gather photographs to create your own story of your family's history and share family legends and lore.


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Second Place
    Second Place
    by Rachel Cusk
    Rachel Cusk's Outline trilogy drew much of its substance from monologues and dialogues that swirled ...
  • Book Jacket: The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
    The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
    by Julietta Henderson
    The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman is the comedic debut novel of writer Julietta Henderson. It ...
  • Book Jacket: In Search of a Kingdom
    In Search of a Kingdom
    by Laurence Bergreen
    The Age of Exploration in the early modern period, lasting roughly from the 15th through 16th ...
  • Book Jacket: Under a White Sky
    Under a White Sky
    by Elizabeth Kolbert
    You can never go back home...so the saying goes. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Girl in His Shadow
by Audrey Blake
The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Crossing the River
    by Carol Smith

    A powerful exploration of grief that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

  • Book Jacket

    Ariadne
    by Jennifer Saint

    A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Who Said...

Every good journalist has a novel in him - which is an excellent place for it.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.