Life and love in a grim mi­lieu

Anne Gar­vey ad­mires a work of fact-based fic­tion. Owen Low­ery en­joys a ma­jor po­etic jour­ney to seren­ity We Were the Lucky Ones

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Ge­or­gia Hunter Al­li­son & Busby,

£14.99 Re­viewed by Anne Gar­vey

THE KURC fam­ily are Pol­ish Jews liv­ing in Radom dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Their story is full of suf­fer­ing in a coun­try oc­cu­pied by some of the most sav­age of Hitler’s in­vad­ing forces, and fol­lows the grim path of his­tory — each chap­ter has a fac­tual ré­sumé. Yet it cel­e­brates the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of these young peo­ple in a pre­car­i­ous world, where lives so of­ten hung by a thread.

Amer­i­can au­thor Ge­or­gia Hunter was 15 years old when she dis­cov­ered the truth about her ex­tra­or­di­nary fam­ily. She turned in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and spent an en­tire decade trav­el­ling the world to ac­cu­mu­late first-hand tes­ti­monies. Hun­dreds of taped in­ter­views in­fuse her nar­ra­tive; de­tail in­forms ev­ery scene. The novel is as much a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment as an imag­i­na­tive re­con­struc­tion

We first meet Addy in a Paris night­club. At 25, the baby of the fam­ily, he is an en­gi­neer work­ing in Toulouse as well as be­ing a con­sum­mate pi­anist and com­poser. He en­lists in a Pol­ish/ French reg­i­ment but fears for his fate as a Jew in oc­cu­pied France. He forges his de­mob pa­pers, quits the army and takes ship for Brazil. In Rio, he writes home ev­ery week but no one re­mains to re­ply.

Elder brother Gemel and his wife Herta are in a Siberian labour camp, log­ging wood for pieces of bread in its snowy wastes, while Ja­cob, whose heroically faith­ful girl­friend Bella has joined him in the dan­ger­ous city of Lvov, works for the Rus­sians. Her jour­ney there, wad­ing across the freezing river in the deep dark­ness of a win­ter night with pa­trols ev­ery­where, is a breath­tak­ing act of de­vo­tion. She and Ja­cob are mar­ried un­der­ground at mid­night by a rabbi in a se­quence of im­mense ten­der­ness de­scrib­ing the bride’s ap­pear­ance in the “mar­riage vault”.

Mila, with her baby Feli­cia, strug­gles in the ghetto. Each morn­ing, she straps the child to her and de­fies the ban on chil­dren at her fac­tory.

Pe­tite and at­trac­tive younger sis­ter Halina has the kind of light­ning ini­tia­tive and dogged courage that sees her through weeks of bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tion by the Nazis in Krakow’s no­to­ri­ous pris­ons. There is a ten­der sex­u­al­ity be­tween her and her young hus­band Adam, a fighter in the re­sis­tance. Re­mark­ably, there is hu­mour here, too.

From Per­sia to Tel Aviv and then to Monte Cassino and the near-sui­ci­dal as­sault on that Ger­man strong­hold, the book traces the heart-stop­ping ad­ven­tures of each of the ever re­source­ful, al­ways brave Kurc chil­dren.

We Were the Lucky Ones is a strik­ing re-cre­ation of the breath­tak­ing courage of an or­di­nary fam­ily in­spired by their deep love for one an­other.

Anne Gar­vey is a free­lance writer and re­viewer Ge­or­gia Hunter: novel based on a decade of re­search into the for­merly un­known ex­pe­ri­ences of her fam­ily

Hun­dreds of taped in­ter­views in­fuse her nar­ra­tive

PHOTO: AN­DREA CAR­SON

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