Wednesday, April 3, 2019

We Were the Lucky Ones - Georgia Hunter

Summary: 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. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I’m not going to lie. There were times when I physically had to put this book down and just walk away. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it—just the opposite, actually. I really enjoyed this book the entire time. Sometimes World War II literature is just. So. Hard. But let’s start at the beginning.

This book is excellent. The writing is excellent, the story is excellent. The book itself is organized in chapters that switch from narrator to narrator. It follows one Jewish family of Poles throughout the war, and it goes from person to person for the story. I found this to be extremely effective in the telling of the story. First off, the fact that the entire family is separated during the war makes this a great way to keep us up to date on what everybody is doing and where they are. When done poorly, authors have a way to keep the reader hanging for too long or break the momentum in a way that isn’t conducive to good storytelling. That is not true with Hunter. She is so great at timing the momentum is just right—she leaves you hanging for a good story arc and some necessary tension, but the “hanging” doesn’t become burdensome. And sometimes she doesn’t leave you hanging, and that is also important. In order for a changing narrator to work, the author definitely needs to pull it off.

I enjoyed the writing in this book. I really connected with the characters. I understood who they were. It was heartbreaking, really, and so hard to read, but also hopeful and brave at the same time. One thing that made this hard to read is the nature of children involved. Ugh. I can’t even. I understand that World War II history was not kind to anyone, and children were no exception, but it’s still difficult.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about this whole book is that it is a true story based on the author’s family.  Although memoirs and biographies have their own power, it is even more powerful when the story is so remarkable and so epic that it is just an excellent story, and the fact that it is true makes it even better. This is how I felt that this book was—it was so excellent, and so well-written, and the characters so strong and phenomenal, that the fact that they were real people and the stories were accessed from some of the people who lived it, it just pushed it from a really great historical read to something that I believe everyone should read. As I mentioned, for me, World War II historical books are difficult to read. I have grandparents who fought in the war, and although it gets further away all the time, it feels so real and tangible even today. I think it is so important that we read about it—the people, the stories, the history—and never forget what happened. There is a plethora of really good historical fiction books out there, and I think this is one of the best I’ve read. It is even better because it isn’t historical fiction, it is real life. The fact that it reads like a well-crafted fictional novel is a testament to the author’s abilities and her incredible, brave, intelligent, resourceful, family members.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is difficult, as are many World War II books. There is some language and discussion of sex, but it is light and nothing compared to the horror of the atrocities the Nazis committed on Jews during World War II, some of which is mentioned in this book.

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