The title of Georgia Hunter’s newest work, We Were the Lucky Ones, says it all. Amidst the chaos, cruelty, and devastation that plagued millions upon millions of Jews during World War II, one family managed to defy all odds with its survival. In the telling of The Kurc family’s perseverance and persistence despite their separation, Hunter beautifully weaves a story that is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and above all, inspiring.
The term “inspired by a true story” always causes the reader to beg the question, just how true is true? In her author’s note, Hunter details with impressive accuracy the events that plagued her family two generations before her. Despite her humble beginnings of knowledge regarding her family’s history– she had no inkling of her family’s history until she was fourteen– her intense research into each member of her relatives, as well as the circumstances that affected Polish Jews and Jews in general, is abundantly evident. Though it would be impossible to know exactly what transpired during those terrible times, the fabricated details seem nothing less than natural. What Hunter may lack in concrete knowledge, she more than makes up for with her meticulous detail and tender care, filling the blanks of her family’s story seamlessly.
Hunter’s talent for storytelling manifests itself from the get-go. With each turn of the page, the characters seem to materialize, both their image and personalities becoming vivid. Within the first page alone Hunter’s talent for detail becomes evident. Hunter captures the reader with her incredible details, painting a picture first of Addy, then the rest of the family, that only becomes more intricate as the novel progresses. Addy, based on Hunter’s grandfather, Eddy, is the middle child of the Kurcs, a composer living in Paris despite his Polish roots. Addy is the only one of his four siblings to be living away from the rest of his family when the war breaks out, leading to what would become their eight year separation.
It is with this separation that the novel, as it progresses from the start to the end of the war, draws the reader in. With each and every cruelty the characters endure, it is impossible to ignore the personal pang of heartbreak. The attachment between the reader and the characters is so distinct it is virtually tangible; it is almost as if the reader feels each pain the characters feel. As the family endures these harrowing and horrifying circumstances, each walking the fine line between life and death, the reader is not just engaged, but personally involved.
Reading this novel is difficult, not because of anything Hunter did, but because of the story itself. While the title implies that everything turns out okay for the Kurc family, it is nonetheless difficult to read about their hopefulness at the beginning of the war, given the present-day knowledge of the destruction and death that would come with World War II. The word “hope” appears 77 times throughout the 414 page novel and that is what this novel is about at its very core. It is about hanging onto hope, despite, and in light of, it all.
The Kurcs, like countless others during the Holocaust, held out hope, willing themselves to endure whatever tortures may have come their way. Though We Were the Lucky Ones tells a story unique to the Kurcs – a story luckier than most – it also tells a more universal one of perseverance and the unwavering will to live.