I haven’t cried over a book in such a long time.
But I weeped my way through We Were the Lucky Ones.
We Were the Lucky Ones was inspired by Hunter’s own family story and tells of the Kurc family surviving the war, different family members encountering different horrors and troubles: death camps, hiding as gentiles, exile… At a first glance, admittedly it does sound like your typical WW2 historical fiction novel, but let me assure you it is not.
WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES by Georgia Hunter
Genre(s): Historical Fiction | Age Group: Adult
Publication: 14 February 2017 | Read: 9 October 2020
No. of Pages: 403
Click here to view Trigger WarningsDeath, Murder, Exile, Starvation, War themes
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.
An extraordinary, propulsive novel, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can endure and even thrive.
There is nothing worse, not even the daily hell of the ghetto, than for a mother to live with such fear and uncertainty about the fates of her children.
This book carved a special place in my heart because of its theme of family. The whole story revolves around family, a rather big one, with each character facing their own tribulations.
In We Were the Lucky Ones, we discover the selfless side of each character and the lengths they go to protect their family, whether it is using up all their meagre savings or even risking their lives, you can experience that fierce and protective nature each character embodies. Which is so unbearably sweet.
All the siblings look out for each other. The parents are so concerned that they disregard their own suffering. And even the young children understanding.
Hunter vividly portrays all that hope and strength despite the grief and frustration through her writing. The story thus gripped me to root for these group of characters.
During the war, their options were fewer, the stakes higher, their mission singular. It was simple, in a way. Keep your chin down, your guard up. Stay one step ahead. Stay alive for one more day. Don’t let the enemy win. To think about a long-term plan feels complicated, and burdensome, like flexing an atrophied muscle.
Bringing me to the next stellar part of this novel: the characters. The characters are so vastly different. They all possess unique personalities ranging from prideful to stubborn to sensitive.
This makes them such a diverse group. They all go through their own troubles all because of the war and the persecution of Jews, allowing the readers to lucidly see the different ways in which they overcome it which is so empowering.
The storyline is told from about 6 points of view. Yeah we all know historical fictions love multiple POVs… but 6? I’m so pleased to say that it worked really well!
They all go onto separate paths, each their own journey with their spouse, spread all over the globe.
I would admit that it was a bit confusing at the start with the huge number of characters but after 100 pages or so into the book, I soon began to realise the beauty of it.
Each chapter is short and significant, showcasing the important parts of each of the lives of the characters. That being said, through the writing, I could still experience the emotions of the characters. It was not rushed, but instead evocative.
By the chapters jumping from different perspectives and highlighting crucial events, the book felt extremely relatable in the sense that it was many memories of people all bound by blood, stringed together to create the story. This becomes even more engaging when their paths converge again.
The short chapters were also excellent in building up the tension, especially many ending on a high note. It may be a little overwhelming and slow at first, but it is really worth it as the story progresses.
What matters, she tells herself, is that even on the hardest days, when the grief is so heavy she can barely breathe, she must carry on. She must get up, get dressed, and go to work. She will take each day as it comes. She will keep moving.
Yet, with all their various challenges and worries, despite suffering in one of the darkest times ever, the characters still cling on to their shared love of their family, which is the most endearing thing ever.
(trying to be vague here so no spoilers but the novel vividly illustrates each difficulty which reinforces the strong bond I feel is missing in a lot of historical fictions)
These many occasions of parents’ love for their children, the understanding between a couple and the connectedness between siblings enrich the novel immensely. The individual stories were so exciting but the best part? The relationships were so engaging that I focused more on them! (which is super rare!!!)
And at the sound of the first muffled crack, something in her three-and-a-half-year-old mind realizes she’ll never forget this day- the smell of the cold, unforgiving earth; the way the ground had shaken beneath her when the man a row over had tried to run; the way his blood had spilled from the hole in his head like water from an overturned jug; the pain in her chest as she’d run like she’d never run before, toward a woman she’d never seen before; and now, the sound of shots being fired, one after another, over and over again.
One thing that made my heart tear, break and shatter was Felicia. Anguished at Felicia witnessing such horrors at a tender age, touched by Mila’s sudden bravery and sacrifice to save her daughter, holding on to Felicia’s devotion towards her mamusiu…
In fact, Mila did stand out to me the most. Without a husband, raising a young girl alone, she struggled like crazy. Despite all the odds, she pressed on, pulled through and emerged stronger just because of her love for Felicia: such a salient reminder of a mother’s unconditional love for her child.
Part of her wishes she could travel forward in time, and skip to the end of the war. But there is also part of her that prays for time to stop. For there is no telling what the future might bring.
Another thing that made this story such an engaging one was the writing, in a sense that though it focused on the present, it strategically brought in many elements from the past as well. Each character would always reminisce the old days, which is described in intricate detail, about the family dynamics then and this enriched the story, strengthening the resonant theme of family.
Furthermore this book was very well researched. The characters each take part in numerous significant events during the war, many of which that even I, as an avid war novel reader have not heard of. There is also a short description of the dates of what was happening at that point in time at the beginning of most chapters which is most insightful.
I think that my only criticism of this book would be the luck. ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ is really really lucky. In a sense that quite a number of the ploys hatched worked immediately without much complications, or at least we did not get to hear of the failures and losses. This felt a bit surreal and dampened the feeling of it being a war novel and more of an nearly light-hearted adventure story.
We Were the Lucky Ones was indeed a lucky find. Though I am a bit fussy about the high success rate of the characters, I was still overwhelmed by the amount of family love this book engulfed me in. This is a very heartening and encouraging read so I will highly recommend it for those who want a good happy cry and fellow historical fiction fans!
rating // ★★★★
Have you read We Were the Lucky Ones? Did you find it too lucky or did the amount of hope just consume you? For those who haven’t read it, how does it sound?
Also, huge shoutout to Abby @ Beyond the Read and Linda @ Dusts of Magic for giving me feedback on the blog look, we have a new theme and finally a sidebar and ah I’m starting to get attached to the look!