Book Review | We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

08 November 2019

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is a sweeping family story set amidst the horrors of WWII Poland. This book follows the members of the Jewish Kurc family as they're pulled apart and each struggle to survive. The story switches perspectives between each member of the family from the beginning of the war to the end as they are forced to go through truly horrible situations.

Sometimes I feel like the literary market is oversaturated with WWII novels. Yes, it was an important historical event that affected millions. The war has in many ways made the modern world what it is today. But I feel like all the historical fiction books I have read on WWII are beginning to blend together in my memory. I've read some truly incredible books set in this time period that have become all time favorites, but most of them have just been mediocre and unmemorable compared to others.

Despite my WWII burnout, this story was more interesting to me due to the fact that it's based on the true story of the family of the author's grandfather. It makes the depiction feel so much more personal, and the writing more passionate. However, reviewing a book that's based on a true story is tricky. While a true story itself can be incredible and inspiring, I also have to be critical as a reviewer and recognize the weaknesses with the way the story was told, no matter what the backstory is.

I enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones a lot. This book has a lot of heart. I love family sagas and to be able to distinctly see character growth woven through the events of a book, and this has both of those aspects. It reads more like a narrative non-fiction book more than a typical WWII historical novel to me. The author states what happened in a very matter-of-fact way that in some ways was refreshing, and in other ways frustrating.

This book switches perspectives between six or seven members of the family. It follows each of their journeys for the whole duration of the war. I feel like the author was a little over ambitious for trying to tell so many stories across such a long and detailed timeframe in less than 400 pages. It felt rushed at times when I wanted it to slow down to savor the emotions of a moving scene.

Since this book tells the whole family's story, there are a lot of characters we follow. While all the narratives were interesting in some way, I think the novel could have been even stronger if it had just focused on one or two members, not the whole family, or if it had a least another 100 pages or so to develop the characters and the emotion to make me feel connected to everyone.

I tried not to, but I did tend to find some more fascinating than others. I wish that I could read a whole book on just Mila and Felicia's journey. Theirs, more so than the other perspectives, was so unique compared to any other WWII story I've ever read. The character development of Mila was the most fleshed out, and in my opinion, the most heartbreaking. Other perspectives, like Addy, Bella, Jakob, and Halina's weren't as memorable.

My main complaint with this book is the pacing. It was hard so for me to really feel deeply for any of the characters since it went by so fast. The author also does a lot of telling instead of showing. The reader isn't given a good glimpse into the lives of the characters or their relationships with each other before the war, only told. There were also so many times in which the author would build up the suspense really well and end a chapter on a cliffhanger, but by the time she got back to that perspective, time would have passed and the exciting moment she had built up would be told in a passive way. She didn't show or bring the reader into the action very often.

But despite my small complaints, I do appreciate what the author was trying to do and the testament this book is to the love she has for her family. I think the title of the book itself is extremely powerful after you've read it and see what each member of the family went through. Even though their experiences were horrific, they were the lucky ones compared to other families like them at the time. When you put it into perspective, the messages of resilience and familial love this book gives is powerful.

If you enjoy WWII fiction, I would recommend you to try this book. I'm glad I read it and was able to get a new series of perspectives on life during this time period. I'm also excited to see how this author will grow in her writing after this promising debut.

Rating: ★★★
"The exercise of deciding where to go next is difficult. Because next most likely means a new forever."-- Georgia Hunter, We Were the Lucky Ones