All reviews are spoiler free unless noted otherwise.
“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 gruelling 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.”
Plot & Originality: 4/5
Obviously, any narrative about the Holocaust will be heartbreaking. I definitely cried a few times, but We Were the Lucky Ones was far less dark than other Holocaust novels that I read in the past. It lacked a lot of the gory details, darkness, and desperation of the others, such as Night by Elie Wiesel. Hunter mentioned death less frequently and with less detail. Sometimes, I felt like the multiplicity of perspectives overcrowded the novel in this respect because a lot of these poignant and important details felt glossed over.
I saw some odd criticisms here and there about how strange it is that all the family members survived, but, honestly, I was relieved and thankful. In the span of a short time, I became attached to each of the members of the Kurc family. It made me happy that at least one family pieced themselves back together after the war. Plus, the title acknowledges that the Kurc family was lucky and that their experiences did not represent what happened to the vast majority of families. None of this changed the fact that the novel moved me.
Pace & Clarity: 3/5
The multiplicity of perspective meant that the pacing was quick and engaging, but the narrative was disparate and lacking in detail at times. The time jumps left me with a lot of questions about how people reunited or survived certain events, which made the narrative less compelling than it could have been. Plus, I found myself constantly checking the date at the beginning of each section to try and get a better chronology of events and the rapid introduction of characters at the start was dizzying. On a good note, the family tree included at the beginning helped a lot, especially because I didn’t read this in one sitting!
Character Development: 3.5/5
Since the novel was split into so many perspectives, it was hard to get a detailed developmental arc for any character. Often, development came in the form of Hunter telling us how these characters had changed. These changes were never shown per se, with few exception. To be fair though, this was World War 2. Each of the characters obviously had to adapt and become braver for the sake of survival. All I’m saying is that this development didn’t take centre stage.
With that in mind, each of the characters’ perspectives engaged and captivated me. Personally, my favourites were Addy and Halina. Addy because he was an artist and he seemed the most isolated from his family in the begging (from a geographical point of view). Halina because she was headstrong and took on the role of the leader in her family.
Final Thoughts: 3.5/5
Overall, a really good book and one I would recommend to anyone interested in WW2 or historical fiction. This book may not have had as much depth, per se, as others but the breadth of experiences captured in one family was, to me, equally captivating. All in all, a 3.5. I enjoyed it.
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