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 Krakow’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.
What I Thought:
I’ve already spoken briefly on Twitter about how important I think We Were the Lucky Ones is, and (not to get too political all of a sudden) in light of some of the events and famous Executive Orders flying about in the USA, my view has certainly not changed.
What makes this book instantly remarkable is that it is based on true events in the family of author Georgia Hunter. The Kurc family did exist, although some names have been changed, and the stories that make up the narrative are, for the most part, true. Once you read the book you’ll see why it is so important that these things are shared. When the Holocaust occurred getting on for 80 years ago, the people who were there, who experienced life under the Nazis and lived in constant fear of death are beginning to grow old, and it may not be long until they are no longer with us, no longer able to tell their stories and no longer able to warn us of the very worst of human belief and behaviour – this in itself is frightening.
Having said all that, the book does not merely serve as a series of anecdotes, but rather there is a strong narrative flow. There are some leaps in time, which are necessary to cover all the war years and beyond, but the characters are well written and their experiences, while harrowing, are never included just for effect.
I think each reader will find a different approach to the book, a different family member to really root for. As a mother, I identified really strongly with Mila and her efforts to shield and rescue her daughter Felicia, very often from the edge of death. The thought of being in her situation alone is hard enough, but being totally unable to save your own child must be destroying.
At times devastating to read, We Were the Lucky Ones serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit and ingenuity. It, and accounts like it, should form the basis of what we understand about the Holocaust – it’s all very well reading dry, academic texts about what happened, but the lived experience of that dreadful time is so much more compelling.
I was given a copy of the book by the publisher (Allison & Busby) for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.