Blog Tour: The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman

Author: Elyse Hoffman
Publisher: Project 613 Publishing
Publish Date: January 26, 2021
Pages: 373
Type: Paperback
Amazon Link: The Book of Uriel*

*This is not an affiliate link and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using this link.

Official Synopsis
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.

My Review
Thank you to The Write Reads, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As someone who occasionally flits back to historical fiction, particularly of the WWII era, I found the synopsis of this book compelling and unique. Never before have I read a WWII-era historical fiction that incorporates Jewish folklore. As someone who’s unfamiliar with it, the opportunity to learn and read about it really “sold” this book to me.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start with Uriel, the main character. At 10 years old he’s just lost his mother, father, and entire village due to hate crimes perpetrated by the Polish. Alone, devastated, and injured, Uriel wakes up to find two angels looking for the missing Archangel Michael, guardian of the Jewish people. Eager to help his people and put an end to the violence, Uriel emphatically agrees to help search for Archangel Michael.

Thus Uriel finds himself on a mission that thrusts him into German-occupied Poland. Along the way he befriends Uwe, a linguist and translator who unwillingingly finds himself working for the Nazis, and encounters the Angel of Death, who holds Michael hostage. To free Michael, Uriel makes a deal with Samael, the Angel of Death. If he fails, the future of the Jewish people remains grim.

I appreciated the stubbornness and tenacity of Uriel. Though the attack on his village pulled his world out from under him, he remains a beacon of hope despite the challenges he encounters. Born mute and facing social challenges since the beginning of life (for some school children can be mean), he learned to never let anything stop him. This serves him well in his deal with Samael. At times I thought perhaps his persistent optimism was a bit unrealistic, but it works to balance the dark components of the story.

Uwe is a sensitive soul, recruited by Major Brandt to translate prisoners’ answers during interrogation. The nature of this work introduces him to the jarring realization of the horrors the Germans inflict on the Jews and partisan Polish people. If I didn’t know a little bit about the escalation of the mistreatment and genocide of Jews, I would have thought Uwe ignorant. But it’s important to keep in mind that the hate crimes didn’t immediately start with death camps. This is perhaps a generalization, but it started slowly with Jews being forced to move away, then being put in work camps, and then being sent to death camps. Regular civilians of all ilk weren’t immediately aware of what exactly the Nazis did to the Jews. The important thing is that Uwe becomes aware of the Nazis’ hate crimes and must decide whether to keep his head down or help those in need, risking his own life.

The author does a great job characterizing Major Brandt. He comes off as pleasant, genial, and generous, but there’s something sinister simmering under the surface. Frankly, he made me uncomfortable. Think Christolph Waltz’s character as Colonel Hans Landa from the movie Inglorious Basterds, but not as sadistic or cunning.

Though I found the premise of this story interesting, I thought it unrealistic that the tasks Uriel needs to complete to free Michael are all within easy running/walking distance from the central “rendez-vous” point. Uriel’s tasks are less quest-like than I expected for the things Samael asks him to do. I expected to learn of some sort of religious event that might explain why his tasks are concentrated in the same area. It was almost too easy for Uriel and makes the writing err more on the style of folklore than historical fiction; there aren’t a lot of details to explain the “why.” I also thought it odd that Uwe never pries into why or what drives Uriel to the woods so frequently.

However, while I prefer more realism in historical fiction, I think to try to make the folklore aspect more logical would negate the concept of having and keeping faith. I’m not a religious scholar or Jewish, so I’m sure some of the concepts are lost on me. That said, I still appreciated the introduction to Jewish folklore. Through flashbacks to the past, we see that Uriel learns these stories from his father, for whom he has a great respect. So important are these stories to Uriel that they inspire him to write them down so he can remember them forever. To see how much joy these stories spark in Uriel was a real treasure. My favorite part, though, is the epilogue, which is a fitting finish for Uriel and his tales.

For those looking for a different kind of WWII historical fiction that includes a mythological aspect, look no further than The Book of Uriel.

Rating: 3.5/5
Content warnings: death, murder, fire, guns, genocide
Reading format: Kindle e-book

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.

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