Review We Were the Lucky Ones: A novel by Georgia Hunter

Genec Kurc, the oldest son, has “blue eyes, a dimple on each cheek, and an irresistible Hollywood charm.” His wife, Herta, “with her deep-set eyes and perfect lips and chestnut hair spilling in waves over her shoulders . . . looks like something out of a dream.” Meanwhile, Genec’s younger sister, Halina, was “born with an inexplicable mop of honey-blonde hair and incandescent green eyes.”

When Genek is arrested by the NKVD (the Soviet secret police), Herta staunchly insists that “I’m coming with you.” Sixty pages later, when Halina is summoned by another set of NKVD goons, her husband, Adam, repeats the almost identical vow: “I’m going with you.”

And apparently, throughout five and a half years of horror, not a single member of the extended Kurc family ever panics, quarrels, whines, betrays anyone, or acts selfishly.

In the official publicity material, Hunter says that “every significant movement, incarceration, brush with death, and escape described in the book actually happened.” So even if the characterizations strain credibility, readers can happily accept the seat-of-their-pants thrills of the basic plot.

At the start of World War Two, the Kurc family patriarch and matriarch, Sol and Nechuma, are prosperous fabric merchants in Radom, a large town about 60 miles south of Warsaw. Living with them or nearby are four of their five adult children, assorted spouses and romantic partners, their extended families, and one baby granddaughter. The middle son, Addy, is working in Toulouse, France, as an engineer.

However, the Kurcs are soon blasted around Europe and beyond like shots from a machine gun:

Genek and Herta are shipped in a cattle car to a Siberian slave-labor camp. Another brother and his wife manage to wangle jobs at a local factory, which is a step above ghetto misery, at least for a while. The oldest son-in-law disappears, while his wife and baby are squeezed into Sol and Nechuma’s tiny apartment in the Radom ghetto. Halina and Adam, thanks to fake IDs, eke out a risky existence as Aryans in Warsaw. For his part, Addy gets one of the last visas out of France to the presumed safety of Brazil.

To her credit, Hunter smoothly keeps track of this sprawling cast as they move from one temporary hideout to another across five continents, and the narrative rarely flags.

The writing, meanwhile, is serviceable. Hunter’s overreliance on clichés is rescued by occasional flares of strong sensory descriptions.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[Georgia Hunter is] just as courageous as the characters her writing will never let us forget.” —Harper’s Bazaar

“Love in the face of global adversity? It couldn’t be more timely.” —Glamour, “Best Books to Read in 2017”

“[A] gripping, emotional novel.” —People, “The Best New Books”

“A remarkable story of courage, love, and of course, luck.” —Book Riot’s Best Books of 2017

“[A] gripping and moving story.” —Bustle, “15 New Authors You’re Going To Be Obsessed With This Year”

“Turning history into fiction can be tricky . . . Hunter finesses the challenge. Her novel brings the Kurcs to life in heart-pounding detail.” —The Jewish Voice

“The story that so grippingly comes across in the pages of We Were the Lucky Ones isn’t strictly fiction—the characters and events that inhabit this Holocaust survival story are based on her family’s own history.” —Newsweek

“[A] must-read.” —New York Post

“[A] remarkable history . . . Hunter sidesteps hollow sentimentality and nihilism, revealing instead the beautiful complexity and ambiguity of life in this extraordinarily moving tale.” —Publishers Weekly

A Finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards’ Book Club Award

A Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read

“Reading Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones is like being swung heart first into history. Her engrossing and deeply affecting account . . . will leave you breathless. But the true wonder of the book is how convincingly Hunter inhabits these characters, each modeled after her own family members. This is their story Hunter is telling so beautifully and profoundly, and ours as well. A brave and mesmerizing debut, and a truly tremendous accomplishment.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

We Were the Lucky Ones is the most gripping novel I’ve read in years. Georgia Hunter pulled me into another world, vivid, horrifying, astonishing, and heartbreaking.” —Lauren BelferNew York Times bestselling author of And After the FireA Fierce Radiance, and City of Light.

We Were the Lucky Ones is a skillfully woven reimagining of [Hunter’s] own family’s struggle for survival during World War II . . . with spectacular historical detail. This emotionally resonant, gripping portrait of the war is filled with beautifully drawn and wonderfully heroic characters I won’t soon forget.” —Jillian Cantor, author of Margot and The Hours Count

“Georgia Hunter has crafted her own family history into a sprawling, yet still intimate portrait of those swept up in the devastation of war and scattered to the winds.  It is an astonishing saga of hope, of luck, of destruction, and most remarkably of love, made all the more astonishing because of the true story at its core.” —David R. GillhamNew York Times bestselling author of City of Women

“Elegantly executed and always clear, Hunter evokes pre-war Poland with loving detail, clearly showing what was left behind and lost. . . . We Were the Lucky Ones is a compelling read, notable for Hunter’s clear portraits of her plucky, resilient family, and for her ability to build suspense and investment without emotional manipulation.” —Courtney Naliboff, ReformJudaism

About the Author

When Georgia Hunter was fifteen years old, she learned that she came from a family of Holocaust survivors. We Were the Lucky Ones was born of her quest to uncover her family’s staggering history. Hunter’s website, georgiahunterauthor.com, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the extensive research this project has entailed. She lives in Connecticut.
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