Akin, The World That We Knew
Credit: Little, Brown and Company; Simon & Schuster

Akin, by Emma Donoghue

In her celebrated novels, Emma Donoghue has embodied everything from an 18th-century prostitute (Slammerkin) to a young ascetic starving herself for God (The Wonder) — and most memorably, perhaps, a precocious 5-year-old born in captivity (Room). The two main characters in Akin are, despite the title, essentially strangers: a widowed professor and his half-orphaned grandnephew, flung together on a trip to Nice to trace a relative’s possible long-ago involvement in the French Resistance. Donoghue draws a vivid picture, but Akin never quite gels, either in its central relationship or its underdrawn mystery. —Leah Greenblatt

Grade: B

The World That We Knew, by Alice Hoffman

Survival is key in this World, which opens in Berlin, 1941, and follows three young women evading Nazi capture: 12-year-old Lea; her supposed relative Ava; and Ettie, the teenage daughter of a rabbi tasked to watch over them. Then there’s the classic Alice Hoffman spin: Ava is a mystical golem, rooted in Jewish myth, summoned by Ettie for protection. Over years, Ava guides Lea and Ettie through a bleak European landscape, setting the stage for a pair of extraordinary but divergent journeys. Hoffman (Practical Magic) has never been a subtle writer, but in this milieu her heavy hand shows: From the first scene (a grim near-rape), contrasts of good and evil are too bluntly drawn, and her inspiring heroines lack dimension. At least the author hasn’t lost her feel for a fine-tuned plot. —David Canfield

Grade: B-


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