We Were The Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter
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.
Impressive Narrative Scope
One of the things I enjoyed most about "We Were the Lucky Ones" was the huge scope of the narrative as each of the siblings had such a different war time experience. The Kurc family begins their journey in Radom, Poland, in 1939. As the threat of war and persecutions grows, the siblings of the Kurc family each took unique roads to survival. One landed in Cuba, another a work camp, and other escape took them as far as Africa. What makes these events even more remarkable is that they are true. While I am familiar with most of the general history of World War II, books like this serve as a wonderful reminder of the vast differences in the stories of those who survived. Books based around the Holocaust commonly feature characters from Germany or France, I appreciated this look at Polish survivors, particularly as there were very few.
The Title and Message
As the title suggests, "We Were the Lucky Ones" has an overarching sense of hopefulness that was conveyed throughout the book. Each of the characters is separated from their parents, and siblings, and spouses, or children as well, at times- an idea as a daughter and mother that feels unbearable. I was impressed by their strength and determination in such difficult circumstances to survive and then reconnect with each other after the war. I was particularly touched by a mother daughter story in the book. While the mother works in a labor camp, she is only able to see her daughter in glimpses through a gate to the Catholic boarding school she attends. I felt this mother's character was one of the most developed in the novel and I was inspired by watching her journey. When the book begins she is the wife of a doctor, living comfortably with her newborn baby and maid. By the end of the book she is this amazingly brave and independent survivor who has accomplished so much for herself and her daughter.
Things I Struggled With
The large narrative scope of "We Were The Lucky Ones" was a bit of a double edged sword for me as a reader. Because there are at least eight different characters whose story you are following- the narrative shifted frequently throughout the book. One of my favorite elements of reading fiction is the connection you develop with the characters. For most readers, that connection develops as you spend time with a story. In "We Were the Lucky Ones", the story and narrator are constantly changing which make it difficult to connect emotionally with any of them- and in this particular genre that connection is especially important. Without it, all of the big and emotional moments fall flat - which, unfortunately was my experience with "We Were the Lucky Ones". A flaw of mine as a reader is the difficulty I experience keeping large casts of characters straight, and that was definitely a problem for me while reading this book. There is a list of character names and their relationship to each other at the beginning of this book, but it wasn't enough to help me- particularly when the narrative changed so frequently.
Have you read "We Were The Lucky Ones"? What were your thoughts about the book? Please comment below, as I would love to chat with you! Thinking about reading this book? Click here to find a copy at your local library or click below to view the book on Amazon.
Many thanks to Penguin Group and Viking Books for allowing me to read this book prior to publication. As a "girl about library", where books are always free, you can be sure that all opinions expressed are my own. Happy reading!