I’m not sure I can find the words to say just how powerful, heart wrenching, and most of all important, this book is. But bear with me – I’m going to try…
The story centres around three children – Max, Leo and Elsa. They are as close as three friends can possibly be; sharing laughs, memories and smiles in their home city of Vienna. That is, until the rumblings of WW2 shake the foundations of all that they know.
Soon everything is crumbling around them, taking their friendship and everything familiar in it’s wake. It seems the friends are destined for very different futures and nothing will ever be the same again.
Despite all the horrors in store for them, none can snuff out the memory that burns brightly in their hearts. A memory of a time before. A time when the world was theirs.
The narrative switches between the perspectives of the three children throughout the book, giving an insight into multiple experiences of the events that unfold. The story also shows how coincidences and minor decisions can radically alter paths and consequences. Between the three characters we, as a reader, encounter the injustice of the persecution of Jews, the hatred of the Nazi Regime and the inhumanity of the operation that was the Holocaust.
Kessler’s story was inspired by her own fathers experience as a Jew leaving Nazi-Occupied Czechoslovakia. Like Leo in the story, this was only possible because of a coincidence meeting with an English couple some years before. This contact, and the kindness of strangers, were what saved him and his family’s lives.
For a book that deals with such horrors in the history of humanity, the foundations of this story are rooted in love. Love, family, friendship and compassion are some of the tools of hope – and hope itself is an essential ingredient for life. The story of Max, Leo and Elsa is an incredibly powerful and immensely emotional read, containing harsh but essential stories from what was a living nightmare. We must never hear about these events with complicity, for then there will be no resistance. Kessler arms a young audience with knowledge of what hate can achieve, but ultimately what love can conquer.
A heart-breaking but beautiful book. Engaging and sensitively written – I cannot recommend enough.
Meg Readz xx
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, so thanks goes to them, Liz Kessler and Simon & Schuster. When The World Was Ours is published today.