As I write this month’s book review, I am, as I am sure you are also, deeply saddened by the events in Ukraine. As we see families of women and children tearfully boarding trains as the men stay to protect their homeland, I am reminded of the many books my book club of 30-plus years has read with similar themes of family separations during World War II. One that comes to mind is We Were the Lucky Ones, an extraordinary novel based on the true story of a family of Polish Jews who are separated—yet determined not just to survive but to reunite.
But equally as fascinating as the story itself is how the author came to write it. At age 15, the seeds for this novel were planted when a high school teacher assigned an I-Search project for students to explore their ancestry. In talking with her grandmother Georgia Hunter, who was not being raised in the Jewish faith, she was surprised to learn that she came from a family of Holocaust survivors. She didn’t think about the project for another six years, until she attended a family reunion where more stories of the war were revealed. She says, “I knew then that I needed to investigate and write about what happened.”
Hunter took off on a nine-year journey, armed with a digital voice recorder that took her around the globe. The result is her acclaimed book starring her ancestors, the Kurc family.
Page one opens in the Spring of 1939 in Radom, Poland, where three generations of this family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war looms closer. The talk around the Seder table is of new babies and budding romances. But soon, the horrors become inescapable. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see each other again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere.
This novel spans five continents in six years. It transports the reader from the jazz clubs of Paris to Krakow’s brutal prison, to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag.
There are countless stories of World War II, and often when I begin reading one, I wonder how it will differ from the others. This one, because it is based on truly incredible circumstances, renews the human spirit, and it is aptly titled. They were, indeed, the Lucky Ones. We can only hope the many Ukrainian families will be blessed with some good fortune also.
Reviewer Violetta Armour, a Sun Lakes resident, is the former owner of Pages Bookstore in Ahwatukee in the early 90s. She has written five novels, including the award-winning I’ll Always Be with You. Her books are available on Amazon, and more book reviews are on her blog at serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com.