An extraordinary, propulsive novel based on the true story of a family of Polish Jews who are separated at the start of the Second World War, determined to survive—and to reunite.
It is the spring of 1939 and three generations of the Kurc family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war grows closer. The talk around the family Seder table is of new babies and budding romance, not of the increasing hardships threatening Jews in their hometown of Radom, Poland. But soon the horrors overtaking Europe will become inescapable and the Kurcs will be flung to the far corners of the world, each desperately trying to navigate his or her own path to safety.
As one sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to flee the continent, while others struggle to escape certain death, either by working grueling hours on empty stomachs in the factories of the ghetto or by hiding as gentiles in plain sight. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere.
A novel of breathtaking sweep and scope that spans five continents and six years and transports readers from the jazz clubs of Paris to Kraków’s most brutal prison to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can find a way to survive, and even triumph.
Release Date: February 14, 2017
I’m not sure where to start in summing up my feelings on this book. My emotions ran the gamut as I read. I felt like a used up, wet dishrag afterward; too soppy to move, too emotionally spent to speak. This book is powerful, aching heartbreak wrapped up in hope and love, and tied together with beautiful writing.
She heard them before she saw them, their tanks and horses and motorcycles rumbling in through the mud from the west.
One of the things that makes this book exceptional is the underlying truth of the story. I don’t mean the truth of the Holocaust, which is difficult enough to fathom in an abstract way. I’m talking about the truth of the characters, who are in fact loosely fictionalized members of the author’s family. I cannot even begin to put myself in that place where they existed. I have no words for how I felt about their courage and absolute grace, while the world raged around them and against them.
“There’s no such thing as Poland anymore!” he bellows, a ball of spit torpedoing from his mouth.
This is an impossibly difficult, emotional read, in part because of the truth of it, but also because of Georgia Hunter’s writing. She puts us there, in the heart of the Holocaust, from beginning to end. She lets us feel what the characters felt. She shows us what they see. Hunter’s research is impeccable. At the start of each chapter, she orients us with a short paragraph or two, with the year, place, and what was happening with the war at that time. Then she takes us deep into that place and time, like she has opened a curtain on the past.
Genek slumps, unsure of what he’s sickened by more – the fact that he’s trapped in a world of inescapable decay, or the army of lice that has proliferated on his filthy scalp.
At the end of the book, the author shares how she learned about her family’s history, and she updates us on all the family members we meet in this story. I am astounded by this family’s resilience. We can all learn from their ability to move past unfathomable horror and not just survive, but thrive.
History repeats itself. This is one truth she knows.
*I was provided with an advance ebook copy by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.*
Thanks for reading. 🙂