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We Were the Lucky Ones

Review

We Were the Lucky Ones

Luck: the things that happen by chance in the life or lives of a person or group of people. It is luck that keeps the members of the Kurc family safe during World War II in Georgia Hunter’s debut novel, WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES. They really were the lucky ones, we discover as we make our way through the book, traveling with them throughout Poland, to a Siberian gulag, from Montmartre to Toulouse to Italy, from Casablanca to Copacabana. Luck stays the hand of the Nazi death machine when it comes to the Kurcs in a story that seems so unlikely it might be unbelievable if it weren’t based on true events.

Ms. Hunter’s real-life grandfather is the character of Addy in the story. Addy is the third of Sol and Nechuma Kurc’s five adult children. They are a wealthy, cultured Jewish family living in Radom, Poland in 1939. Genek is the oldest of the brood, married to Herta and a lawyer. Mila is next, married to Selim and mother of infant daughter Felicia. Addy lives in France where he works as an engineer and composes music in his spare time. Jakob is working on a law degree. The youngest is Halina, a blonde-haired green-eyed firecracker. The family is tight-knit, and when war comes to Poland they are reluctantly scattered.

"WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES is enjoyable to read... I found myself learning things I did not yet know about World War II and all the ways one lucky family can survive."

Genek and Herta, Jakob and his new wife Bella, Halina and her new husband Adam all land in Soviet-occupied Lvov, Poland, where Adam is a resistance fighter and proves to be rather skilled at forging papers. He makes a set for each member of the Kurc family save Addy, who is on his own somewhere in France. Before the papers can prove useful, Genek and Herta are arrested and exiled to a Siberian work camp. Halina manages to make several trips back to Radom using her false papers to see her parents and Mila and Felicia, who have been moved into one of the city’s ghettos. Selim has been missing since Lvov fell. When Hitler betrays the pact he made with Stalin, the Soviets leave Poland, but not before killing imprisoned Jewish intellectuals and Ukrainians. The Jewish population is blamed, a Ukrainian militia takes its revenge and a pogrom ensues. All the Kurcs make it out, but Bella’s sister and husband are not so lucky.

Addy, meanwhile, is having different luck in France. He is conscripted into a Polish branch of the French army. After Germany occupies France, the army is disbanded and he scrambles to find safety. He manages to procure a Brazilian visa and makes it onto the Alsinia, one of the last ships leaving Europe. The ship is anchored in Dakar for months when Brazil begins to limit the number of refugees it will allow into the country. Eventually he makes it to Rio de Janeiro and finds a job, always writing letters home and never receiving a reply. The guilt he feels at leaving Europe and his family behind is massive. As the years pass and the news out of Europe grows worse, Addy wonders whether or not he’ll ever see any of his family again, and if they can survive the Holocaust.

WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES has some good things going for it. The story is compelling; you find yourself wondering how Mila and Felicia could possibly get out of it when they’re forced to dig their own graves in a far-flung field, or when Jakob and Bella end up hiding in a field of tall wheat as other Jews are loaded into nearby cattle cars. Ms. Hunter has thoroughly researched the history and movements of World War II, adding in relevant facts and dates of certain events, like the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942 when Reinhard Heydrich presented a “Final Solution,” or the dates the Radom ghettos were liquidated later that year.

Where the novel falters is in the language used. Modern popularized phrases like “deal breaker” runs through a character’s thoughts and takes me out of Uzbekistan and puts me in “30 Rock.”

That being said, WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES is enjoyable to read, if slow in parts, I found myself learning things I did not yet know about World War II and all the ways one lucky family can survive.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on February 17, 2017

We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter

  • Publication Date: February 14, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0399563083
  • ISBN-13: 9780399563089