The Book of Uriel: A Novel of WWII
By Elyse Hoffman
Publication Date: 26th January 2021
Publisher: Project 613 Publishing
Page Length: 317 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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 Angel of Death will confront you if you search for Michael. Are you prepared for that? Are you still willing to go through with this?”
Uriel paused and looked towards his beloved Zingdorf, now nothing but a graveyard of bodies and buildings. He had nothing else to do, no other purpose, and if he met his end, he could at least join his family and friends.
The village of Zingdorf may not be incredibly large, but the sound of the choir is a sound that could very well have been the song of angels, and many would travel near just to hear the sound. In such a village, Uriel doesn’t fit in. Born mute, he could not join in with the songs, nor could he vocalise his prayers. However, he never blamed God for forgetting to give him a voice, for God makes no mistakes and there was clearly a reason Uriel was born silent. Instead, he puts down the words he cannot speak into his notebook, filling it with stories.
When Zingdorf is consumed by fire, blood, and ash, Uriel is the only one to escape with his life. However, it is not of his own doing. The angels Gabriel and Raphael are shocked to find a small boy, who is not only still breathing, but can see them both. When Raphael attempts to heal him, the will of God is clear as Uriel’s injuries heal themselves. The angels know without a doubt that this child must be special, and they explain the situation that they find themselves in—the archangel Michael is missing, and no angel can get anywhere near the sins of the Germans without feeling intense pain. There is no doubt that Michael has been taken by Samael, the Angel of Death, and hidden somewhere close to the Germans, somewhere the other angels cannot venture near. However, Uriel is a mortal, and the presence of evil would have no physical effect on him.
Full of horror, fear, and the necessity to find Michael before the entirety of the Jewish population is wiped out, The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman tells more than just the story of a religious quest, but also masterfully builds relationships while sowing mistrust and doubt among those capable of seeing the inhumanity of such destruction.
The angels give Uriel a hamsa that renders him invisible to all but the righteous while he wears it, and he sets off on his quest, quickly finding himself at the manor of Major Günter Brandt of the Ordnungspolizei, the Order Police. With the protection of the hamsa, Uriel has no problem with entering the manor, not without making some faces at the Major first, though. What he doesn’t expect is the linguist, who had been taken from his home and family to put his language abilities to use, to spot him and rush him up to his room to keep him hidden and out of sight. The linguist, Uwe, knows the risks of harbouring Jews, no matter how young they may be, but he can’t bring himself to abandon the boy. Uwe is a kind and caring man in the middle of a world full of brutality, and his compassion gets him into trouble more than once. How could he just stand by and simply translate when men are being tortured for information? How could he let a young, mute boy out into the dangerous world, with so many Germans around who would have no thoughts against murdering him?
Uwe and Uriel become the support that the other needs. Taken from his family, and with love to spare, Uwe takes Uriel under his wing. He may be hesitant to grow fond of the boy at first, but to Uriel, having lost everyone he has ever known, Uwe is the father figure that he so desires. Their relationship, although beautiful, is heartbreaking to read about, for they remind each other of what they do not have, yet they also grow incredibly close. Uwe would much prefer to be at home with his wife and children, and Uriel would do anything to see his parents again, yet neither can have what they want. Uwe’s protectiveness over Uriel is depicted with such brilliance that it was wondrous to behold. Their relationship is a rose among the thorns as Uwe tries to keep himself and Uriel safe, and Uriel, unbeknownst to Uwe, tries to find Michael to end the horrors and destruction.
The various aspects of Jewish stories and religion mixed into this book were masterfully portrayed. Uriel’s mission puts in his path many different sacred items from the old stories. He needs these sacred relics if he is to save Michael and the Jews. The ignorance of the others, with some of the items passing through the hands of the Ordnungspolizei to get to Uriel, is shocking, although it is obvious that no one but Uriel is completely aware of the importance or power that these items hold.
This is not a novel simply about a religious quest, but one that also portrays the horror that the Jews faced at the hands of the Poles and the Germans. Uwe has no choice but to help the Ordnungspolizei, but their treatment of the poor people that are being hounded out of their homes, their possessions broken and their beloved Torahs destroyed, is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. Sitting down in the evening to read out Uriel’s stories to the boy is not enough to wipe the scenes of destruction from Uwe’s mind, and he wants nothing more than to take Uriel and go home.
The Book of Uriel by Elyse Hoffman is a novel that is almost impossible to put down and will entrance you from start to finish. Hoffman has penned a novel in which all light has gone from the world, and the one being that could help put things back together has been locked away, somewhere no angel can find him. The historical detailing, combined with Jewish scripture and a young boy’s determination to save his people, has produced a story wherein hope is prevalent during even the darkest of times, as long as there is trust in God and faith that he will fix what is broken.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Ellie Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club
This book can be found on your favourite online store.
This book is available on audio.
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.