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a world elsewhere book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Boxes hold a curious fascination. Whether made of cardboard or plastic or inlayed wood, most of the time, they contain the mundane…items left from moving, old clothes or files of papers important at some point in our lives. A box with a key though, that is a mystery waiting to be discovered. We wonder with rapt anticipation what adventure waits upon its unlocking. In her book, A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany, author Sigrid Macrae takes us on a real life journey that began with such a box and unlocks the questions held in her own life that the contents answer. Upon receiving a locked Moroccan box from her mother, Sigrid finds that when it is finally opened, it reveals the answers to her early years, details about her deceased father whom she never knew and the opportunity to make peace with her past.

When the box is opened, Sigrid finds that it holds the answers to much of the loss she experienced in her young life.  In 1927, her mother, Aimee Ellis, then a young woman, had traveled to Europe with a friend for a vacation. While there, she met a poor young aristocrat named Heinrich Alexis Nikolai von Hoyningen-Huene. She was from a wealthy Connecticut family with minimal familial connections. He was a poor baron with Russian origins living in Baltic Germany with deep family roots and strong family influences. Upon falling in love, the two were married in 1928 and lived in Germany where they had six children. Their lives were rich in love and full of their family and abounding in happiness.

All of this was completely foreign in Sigrid’s memories as she has been too young to remember her own father. When World War II began, he enlisted with the Russian Army. This marked a turning point for her family. Her father lost his life during the war forcing her mother to work desperately hard to protect and care for her family. For years she kept them in Germany before returning to the United States to live in Maine. Their life was marked with hardship and difficulty. For Sigrid, this was the only life she remembered…until the box which opened her eyes to parts of her history that made everything else make sense.

This memoir is a beautiful story that connects to the story within each one of us. We all have questions. There are unknowns in each of our pasts that play out in our daily lives. What a gift to receive a box that unlocks that mystery and gives context to all the questions. Whether you love a good story or just enjoy history, this book will make you appreciate that people are more than what they seem. What we see may be just a shadow of who they are. If we would treat people like that locked Moroccan box, we might find that people are really full of mysteries waiting to be discovered and getting to know them is an adventure worth taking even if the journey is difficult.


Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.