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We Were The Lucky Ones

Posted on 7th February 2017 by Sally Campbell
Unlike millions of their Polish compatriots, Georgia Hunter's Jewish ancestors managed to survive the gulags, ghettos and pogroms of 1940s Europe. Her debut novel, We Were The Lucky Ones, weaves the facts of their remarkable stories into a first-person, fictional narrative that, as Publishers Weekly notes, 'side-steps hollow sentimentality and nihilism, revealing instead the beautiful complexity and ambiguity of life in this extraordinarily moving novel.’ Here, Hunter explains in more detail the genesis of the book.

When I was fifteen years old, a year after my grandfather had passed away, my high school English teacher assigned our class an “I-Search” project – a study in looking back at our roots. I sat down with my grandmother for an interview and it was then that I discovered, over the course of an hour, that my grandfather (whom I’d assumed until then to be American through and through) was raised in Poland, and that he came from a family of Holocaust survivors.

“Eddy was living in France at the start of the war,” my grandmother said, explaining that he’d talked his way into a Brazilian visa, and had fled for Rio on a ship full of refugees in 1941. He’d spent years in South America, trying without success to reconnect with the parents and siblings he’d left behind in Poland. When I asked my grandmother what happened to them, she shook her head. “I didn’t meet his family until 1946,” she said. “They spoke very little of their experiences.”
  

   Photo: Georgia Hunter with her Grandfather

Years later, my parents hosted the first ever Kurc family reunion at our home in Massachusetts. I’ll never forget making a dozen trips to and from the airport that week to retrieve relatives arriving from France, Israel, Brazil, and all over the States, many of whom I’d never met before – nor will I forget the snippets of conversation I overheard upon stumbling into a conversation among my mother and her cousins one night after dinner. The dialogue came to me in pieces, as talk often shifted mid-sentence between French and Portuguese, but what I could make out were stories unlike any I’d ever heard before: a baby born in the Siberian gulag; a daring mother-daughter escape from the ghetto; a near-foiled attempt to hide a circumcision; a hike, while pregnant, over the Austrian Alps.

I left that reunion feeling certain that someone in the family needed to capture our history on paper. It would be another eight years, however, before I realized that someone was me. I set off for Paris for my first interview in 2008, and spent the better part of the decade that followed collecting oral histories, walking in the Kurc siblings’ footsteps, and digging through archives for relevant records. Little by little, I pieced together the bones of the Kurc family’s narrative, and We Were the Lucky Ones was born.


Photo: The Kurc Family Reunion, Massachusetts

This being my first book, I hadn’t any preconceived notions as to what the finished product might look like. I simply knew I wanted to convey my story in a way that did the family justice, and that felt less like a history lesson, and more like a novel: visceral and immersive. I wanted my readers to understand, through the eyes of the Kurcs, what it meant to be Jewish and on the run during the Second World War. And so, I decided to write the book as fiction, in the present tense, allowing myself the creative license to dive deep into my characters’ psyches, imagining to the best of my ability what was running through their hearts and minds. In doing so, We Were the Lucky Ones, I think, became a story not just about my family, but about courage, perseverance, and the ability, even in the darkest of hours, to keep hope alive.

 

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