In the fires of World War II, a child must save his people from darkness…
Ten-year-old Uriel has always been an outcast. Born mute in a Jewish village known for its choir, he escapes into old stories of his people, stories of angels and monsters. But when the fires of the Holocaust consume his village, he learns that the stories he writes in his golden notebook are terrifyingly real.
In the aftermath of the attack, Uriel is taken in by Uwe, a kind-hearted linguist forced to work for the commander of the local Nazi Police, the affably brutal Major Brandt. Uwe wants to keep Uriel safe, but Uriel can’t stay hidden. The angels of his tales have come to him with a dire message: Michael, guardian angel of the Jewish people, is missing. Without their angel, the Jewish people are doomed, and Michael’s angelic brethren cannot search for him in the lands corrupted by Nazi evil.
With the lives of millions at stake, Uriel must find Michael and free him from the clutches of the Angel of Death…even if that means putting Uwe in mortal danger.
The Book of Uriel is a heartbreaking blend of historical fiction and Jewish folklore that will enthrall fans of The Book Thief and The World That We Knew.
Huge thanks to the author and to The Write Reads for my spot on the blog tour and for providing a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.
There is a lot going on in this book, and at first I wasn’t sure about flicking between the two modes of the supernatural world of the angels and the brutal realism of Nazi violence, but it actually works really well, and makes for a gripping and profound story. The characters are well-rounded and complex – even the evil Major Brandt is given nuance and disturbingly likeable characteristics – in some ways, his charm and humour make him even more monstrous. Uwe and Uriel are characters you can’t help but root for, and I was carried along by the twists and turns of their adventures in the forest. There is a kind of breathless feel about some of the passages, and I did wonder if quite so many quests and mysteries needed to be packed in, but it certainly makes for a very ‘full’ book, one that feels resonant with Jewish folklore and rich in symbolism.
I think that is what I liked the most about The Book of Uriel – it feels like a really detailed exploration of Jewish lore, of the stories, most of which I was not familiar with, that Uriel carries in his heart. The fact that Uwe is unaware of the paranormal element of Uriel’s adventures is a really nice touch, as it allows his strand of the story to focus entirely on the human cost of the Nazi regime, contrasting the almost mythological feel of Uriel’s quest with the vile actions taken by Brandt and his men. The question of who are the demons takes on a philosophical slant as we see both literal and metaphorical ‘angels’ of Death. It is a book which really makes you think, and which, it seems to me, pays beautiful homage to the Jewish faith, honouring the stories and the traditions that have been passed down the generations.
It is violent, and certain scenes are very upsetting, but I think it is important that the author shows the brutality even as she weaves the more fantastical elements of the story among the shocking violence. Uriel is a really special character – even though he doesn’t say a word, it is easy to see why Uwe feels so paternal and protective towards him, and his spark and courage and acceptance of his role all make him incredibly endearing. I felt a real love for him by the end of the book, and I think Hoffman does justice to her wonderful protagonist. I’m grateful to have read his story.
About the Author
Elyse Hoffman strives to tell historical tales with new twists: she loves to meld WWII and Jewish history with fantasy, folklore, and the paranormal. She has written six works of Holocaust historical fiction: the five books of The Barracks of the Holocaust and The Book of Uriel.