Hardback: 416 pages
Release Date: 14th February 2017
SET ACROSS EUROPE
I am afraid that I am guilty of that most heinous of book crimes in the case of this novel – I judged this book by its cover and I couldn’t have been more wrong. “This will be a fairly quick easy read,” I thought, assuming that it was probably going to be one of those generic historical fiction novels that seem to all have the same sepia covers and semi handwritten title font. “It’s got one of those ‘airport’ covers – the sort of thing you can whizz through on a sun lounger on a package holiday,” and whilst I was expecting some weight from the subject matter, after all any novel dealing with the Holocaust is unlikely to be ‘light’, I wasn’t expecting to find the truly remarkable story that I did and the fact that it has its roots in the author’s real family history is even more extraordinary.
The Blurb: 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.
A novel of breathtaking sweep and scope that spans five continents and six years and transports readers from the jazz clubs of Paris to Krakow’s most brutal prison to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, We Were the Lucky Ones demonstrates how in the face of the twentieth century’s darkest moment, the human spirit can find a way to survive, and even triumph.
“I would like to add that, even in the darkness, I see your love. Inside, you are full, and through your eyes, it shines.”
I seem to have been reading lots of books recently that are structured around the multi-perspective premise – perhaps this is the cool new literary thing. Unfortunately it can be such a hard thing to pull off as it can prevent pace, flow and narrative development if an author is not careful. Hunter does a brilliant job of manipulating this for her own ends here though. It really gives the feeling that the members of the family are scattered to the winds. They vanish and reappear throughout the novel and this serves to really draw you into the sense that this actually happening, that people were often suddenly missing, that they would disappear and perhaps reappear with little notice and adding to the hauntingly realistic portrayal of how families were displaced throughout Europe as they sought to survive. This is compounded by the unusual use of present tense throughout which gives the writing an immediacy and draws you in even more.
The writing is without exception vivid and emotional. It’s not often that I actually find myself crying whilst reading a book but there were several moments throughout this one that had me reaching for the tissues. I honestly can’t believe that this is a debut novel, the writing is so self-assured. Hunter has these beautiful moments of humanity that shine through all the dire events that unfold and you are always on the edge of your seat, waiting for the characters to be discovered.
Overall this is a strong piece of storytelling – emotional, beautifully written and actually lives up to the hype and quotations on the back.