Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We Were the Lucky Ones

Title:  We Were the Lucky Ones
Author:  Georgia Hunter
Publication Information:  Viking. 2017. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0399563083 / 978-0399563089

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It wasn't his plan to stay up all night."

Favorite Quote:  "She'd watched from then on as every basic truth of the life she once knew - her home, her family, her safety - was thrown to the wind. Now, those fragments of her past have begun to drift back down to earth, and for the first time in over half a decade she has allowed herself to believe that, with time and patience, she might just be able to stitch together a semblance of what was. It will never be the same - she's wise enough to understand that. But they are here, and for the most part, together, which has begun to feel like something of a miracle."

They were the lucky ones. Not because something wonderful happened. Rather because something unimaginable happened, and they persevered. Though published as a novel, this book is the story of one family and their experiences through World War II and the Holocaust. According to the author's acknowledgements, the book is based on oral histories. "The book began as a simple promise to record my family's story, something I need to do for myself, for the Kurcs, for my son, and for his children and their great-grandchildren and so on."

This is the story of the Kurc family. Polish and Jewish, they lived a simple life in the town of Radom. The story begins in 1939. Sol and Nechuma Kurc run their shop and are surrounded by the love of their adult children - Genek, Mila, Addy, Jakob and Halina. Halina is the youngest, twenty-two at the start of the war. Each of the five is pursuing jobs, careers, relationships, and all that life has to offer. Addy, the author's grandfather, is in Paris. The rest still live in and around Radom, Poland.

The war and its atrocities arrives. The family scatters, and over the course of the war, their lives take different directions. The story goes back and forth between each of their perspectives. The eyes of this one family capture so many different facets of what people endured - ghettos, constraints, near starvation, work camps, army life, pogroms, arrests, killings .... The list goes on an on. A family trying to live its life is thrust into war with no chance of escape.  No one family member knows the fate of the other. Hope and courage is all that holds them together. They endure.

 At first, as a reader, it is challenging to remember who is who and who is experiencing what. With seven immediate family members, spouses, children, and friends, the book has a lot of characters. A family tree or a list of characters and relationship would be helpful for the beginning of the book. However, then, the experience of each is unique and so very sad in its own way, that soon the movement between the different perspectives ceases to present a challenge. Individually, I begin to follow each story, and together, they form not only a horrific image of the war but also a beautiful picture of family, love, and tenacity.

What sets this book apart from other books I have read about the Holocaust is its simultaneously narrow and expansive scope. Amazingly, this is the story of one family. Yet, it reaches across Poland, Siberia, France, Northern Africa, Italy, South America, and even the United States of America. This is a story of survival in war. It is also a refugee story. "The idea of leaving behind all that was once theirs - their home, their street, the shop, their friends - is nearly impossible to conceive. But ... those things are the things of the past. Of a life that no longer exists." Their destinations:  Italy and the United States of America for these places offer hope beyond the devastation. This is a remarkable story of survival.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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