Ms. Hunter based the book on her grandfather’s family and their experiences.
The Kurcs — parents Sol and Nechuma, and their five grown children — are a prosperous, educated Jewish family living in Radom, Poland, when the Germans invade in 1939. As they struggle to survive, the family is scattered.
Sol and Nechuma are forced into the Radom Ghetto when their house is confiscated. Son Genek and his wife are arrested and sent to a labor camp in Siberia before becoming part of the Polish army.
Another son, Addy, is in France when the war breaks out, and he manages to escape to Brazil. Jakob, Helena and Mila make their way to Warsaw, where false papers and connections to the underground help keep them alive.
Historical context is provided at the beginning of each chapter and woven into the personal tales. Amid the many stories of Jews who did not survive the Holocaust, this novel stands out in its depiction of one lucky family who did.
Most members of Alegria’s “Words to Devour” book club enjoyed the novel. Out of five stars, the group’s ratings ranged from two to five, and averaged 4.2. Some enjoyed the way each chapter followed a different character; some found that confusing.
(The helpful family tree isn’t easy to access in electronic format.)
The compelling novel provided an intense discussion for the book club. Members were amazed by the extraordinary chances characters took to survive, and with the family’s acceptance of what each person did, even if it meant denying being Jewish or not returning to Poland to help the family.
As a writer, I thought the book was well-written, and was impressed with the research. I found Ms. Hunter’s writing more literary at the beginning, but didn’t really notice when it became less so.
The action and close calls kept me reading.
One book club member was disappointed and angered by the book’s “Disney” feel.
I, too, felt it light-handed once I realized all the characters would survive. The effect on me was more positive.
With so many horrifying accounts of the Holocaust, I was relieved to know I wasn’t going to face as much grief as results from most stories.
At the same time, the author included the deaths of many extended family members and friends. I didn’t feel she was making light of events.
Many people did survive the unfathomable horrors.
I did find the large cast of viewpoint characters a little confusing. I ended up bonding with only two. Those two, though, were well developed.
It’s not surprising that one of them was the author’s grandfather.
The most disturbing result of the book for me was the thought of Felicia — a granddaughter — living through such horror for her formative years. So many survivors were likewise damaged.
I appreciated the book and I give it 4.5 stars. I’m glad the Rio Rancho library included this one in the book club kits.
(Sarah Hanberry Baker has written 20 published novels in three genres and is a member of two book clubs. She lives in Bernalillo. Her book reviews appear on the third Sunday of the month.)