Author Georgia Hunter spent years researching for her debut novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. Since the novel’s release at the beginning of this year, it has become a major hit! Georgia is now a New York Times best selling author. However, a novel wasn’t always her intention. This book came out of a yearning to discover more about her own family history and from there, an incredible novel emerged.
We were able to get our hands on a copy of Georgia’s novel. You can learn more about our thoughts on it below:
Review of We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones is one of those books that you know was written in a very thoughtful, heartfelt way. It’s obvious that Georgia Hunter had a passion for this novel as every character has a voice. And although the novel is based on a true story, it’s never forgotten that it’s exactly that: a story. While yes, there’s much to learn from this book, there’s also a great story here as well.
The novel follows the Kurc family in Poland, the spring before the start of World War II. It begins as though everything is normal. Well, as normal as things can be. Life for this family revolves around upcoming events, get-togethers, and wishful futures. Sadly, things become way less normal very quickly. As this Jewish family comes face-to-face with something so incredibly horrible, they have to figure out their own ways to survive.
This novel is heart-wrenching. There’s no way of getting around that. One of the modern world’s darkest moments, the holocaust, is never something that is easy to read about. However, this novel isn’t one to pass up as it is both beautiful and sadly personal. It’s carefully and meticulously researched. You can tell that this meant something to Georgia Hunter because anyone who reads it will instantly feel that touch of personal history.
While it’s one thing to recognize this severely dark time period, it’s another thing to feel connected to it. And Georgia Hunter makes readers feel connected to everything in this novel – both the good and the bad. We Were the Lucky Ones is one of those books that will draw you in. You will pick it up and then not put it down until you’ve finished the very last sentence on the very last page.
Q&A with Georgia Hunter
After reading We Were the Lucky Ones, we were able to sit down and chat with Georgia Hunter herself! We learned more about her family history, how she became a writer, and how she has learned to be easier on herself (especially when it comes to first drafts). Check it out here:
To begin, can you give us some information on your background and how you started becoming a writer?
I grew up in small-town Massachusetts and went to college at the University of Virginia, where I majored in psychology – and where I met my husband! We’ve lived in Atlanta and in Seattle, and home for us now is southeastern Connecticut, where we’re raising our two boys (6 years old and 1 year old). Right out of college, I worked as a brand strategist. In 2006, at 27, I decided to try my hand at copywriting, freelancing in the adventure travel industry. I still write for a few of the clients I first met a dozen years ago – they’re like family to me now. It was 2008 when I set off to research and record my family history. I had no idea then what the project would entail, or that it would take nearly a decade to complete!
When did you first realize that you had a passion for writing? What encouraged you to be a writer?
One of my first memories as a kid was listening to the sound of my father tapping away at his typewriter. He was a writer, among other things, and published his first novel when I was three, so I grew up with the assumption that writing a book was something attainable. (Now, of course, I know how hard it is!) My parents encouraged me to write from childhood. I kept diaries, travel journals, I submitted opinion pieces to the local paper. I loved to write, but it was always a hobby. It wasn’t until I set off as a copywriter that I turned the passion into a career.
Can you tell us a bit about We Were the Lucky Ones and what inspired to write it?
We Were the Lucky Ones, while written as a novel, is a true story, based on my family history. It tracks my grandfather (Addy), his parents, and his siblings—a family of Polish Jews—as they scatter at the start of the second world war on a two-fold mission: to survive and to reunite. I was close with my grandfather growing up (we lived just a mile apart), so it’s surprising, in a way, that I didn’t discover his Holocaust-era past until after he’d died.
At 15, a high school English teacher tasked our class with interviewing a relative for a project called an “I-Search.” My grandfather had passed away the year before and with his memory so fresh, I decided to sit down with my grandmother, Caroline; it was then that I learned I was a quarter Jewish, and that I came from a family of Holocaust survivors.
Six years later, sitting around a table with second-generation survivors at a family reunion, I was introduced to bits and pieces of the greater Kurc family saga—to stories unlike any I’d ever heard before. I remember thinking why am I just hearing these stories now? And why hasn’t anyone taken the time to write them down? While I didn’t decide right then to record my family history, it was at that reunion that the idea was seeded.
Congrats on being a New York Times Bestseller! Has this book and the success it brought changed your life at all?
Thank you! I still can’t quite believe We Were the Lucky Ones made its way onto The List — and has somehow hung in for 18 weeks now! It’s surreal. The biggest change I’ve noticed is in the number of readers who have reached out to tell me what the book has meant to them. I’ve been blown away by the response We Were the Lucky Ones has gotten, by how deeply it seems to be resonating with a broad audience. (The other day I got a note from a reader who described himself as a “45-year-old grown a** man with tattoos” who admitted that he’d cried through a recent flight while reading my book!). I suppose the other thing that’s changed is my free time, as I try my hardest to reply to everyone who takes the time to contact me. I’m on the road quite a bit for readings and book discussions, as well. I’m getting ready to take off for a second national paperback tour in June, actually!
What do you want people to gain most from your novel?
I hope that readers gain some of what I gained from my research, which is a very human, very personal perspective on what it meant to live through the Holocaust. It’s a dark chapter in history, and one that’s hard in many ways to fathom — how do you wrap your head around the idea of six million Jews lost? It’s also a chapter in history that will soon, sadly, feel ancient. With fewer and fewer survivors around to share their experiences, now feels like a more important time than ever to keep the stories alive.
I hope the book will offer readers a new perspective on their own lives, as well. For me, understanding what my relatives endured has helped me to see my own struggles in a new light. Suddenly, my day-to-day “challenges” don’t feel so daunting. I have less reason to worry, to complain, to feel sorry for myself. I’m more grateful than ever for the life I lead, and for the fact that my family is safe and accounted for. I hope others might take away some of that perspective as well.
Finally, I hope that We Were the Lucky Ones might inspire readers to ask questions, as I did, to learn about their roots. I think there is a universal fascination with ancestry, with understanding who we are, where we come from, why we are the way we are. I’ve devoted a page on my website to helping people figure out where to begin on their ancestry search, should they feel inspired to do a little digging.
Do you have any plans to write another novel?
I do! I’m exploring several ideas as we speak, actually. I love the historical fiction genre, so it’s tempting to go that route again. But I’m also considering writing about a time and a place and issues that I’m familiar with. I’m excited by the idea of drawing inspiration from my own personal experiences.
Which writers have inspired you the most?
I’ve immersed myself over the last decade in World War II/Holocaust-era books, falling in love with writers like Julie Orringer (The Invisible Bridge), Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See), David Benioff (City of Thieves), Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), Leon Uris (Mila 18), Art Speigelman (Maus). Other favorite authors include Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Erik Larson, Anne Lamott, Paula McLain, Jhumpa Lahiri, Dave Eggers, Jeannette Walls, and, for his comedic genius, David Sedaris.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you approach a new writing project?
We Were the Lucky Ones was unique, as it felt more like a passion project than a writing project. Researching my family history was something I knew I needed to do; publishing the story was secondary. My writing process was therefore very organic and very slow. That said, once my agent and then my editor at Viking came into play, my “passion project” turned into something real, and I was suddenly held accountable for revisions and deadlines.
In general, I’m someone who likes to gather as much information as possible before starting a new project. For my travel writing, that means researching a new destination or offering, and ideally talking to a couple of travelers or guides who have been out there in the field so my descriptions (especially if I haven’t been there) feel authentic and fresh.
For the book, that meant a great deal of research as well: collecting as many oral histories as I could, along with outside research (records dug up via archives, museums, etc.), which I pieced together at first in the shape of a timeline. Once my timeline was complete, I organized it into an outline and chapter summaries. As my manuscript took shape, many scenes required a whole new round of research to help bring the smaller, more colorful details to life (like what style of hat would my grandfather have been wearing? what kind of cigarettes would Parisians have smoked at the time?). Those specifics that weren’t passed down in my interviews. Long story short, I’m not one of those writers who can just start writing; I like to do my research and to have a plan (a rough one at least!) when I approach a new project.
You’ve been a writer since you were a kid. Was there ever a time where you doubted if you could turn this into a career? Was there anyone who kept encouraging you to follow your dreams?
I worked in marketing and communications right out of college, which felt like a great fit at the time. It wasn’t until a firm I was working for hired a copywriter that I realized that there were people in my industry who wrote for a living, and I thought, why not give it a try?
When I decided to branch off as a copywriter, though, I was terrified. I had no contacts, no past experience, no one to assure me that my writing would cut it. I went for it anyway, hiring a graphic designer friend to design me a business card, then sent my resume out to a few adventure travel outfitters. They had no reason to take a leap of faith on me, but a couple did, and suddenly I was a copywriter.
I give my father credit for paving the way to a career in writing, my husband credit for encouraging me to try my hand at copywriting, and my mother credit for giving me the courage to tackle my book project. When I told my mom I wanted to research and record our family history, I wondered if she might warn me not to quit my day job. Instead her response was a heartfelt YES! Do it! She’s been my wing-woman from start to finish on this project, and I am immensely grateful for her support.
Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
People who know me as a rather soft-spoken introvert with an aversion to conflict are often surprised to learn that I have a double black belt in taekwondo. I started practicing in my twenties in Seattle, figuring it would be a fun sport to learn during the rainy winter months. I was hooked after my first yellow stripe.
What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
Don’t give up! Writing is hard and solitary. If you’re in a rut or have hit a wall, solicit help from people you trust, friends or colleagues who will give you constructive feedback. And try to write a little every day. I like to write in the mornings, and I try to carve out two 90-minute sessions per day for just writing (no email, no texts, no calls)—this is hard, but that block of uninterrupted time to be creative is invaluable. I also love the advice I got from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (which I recommend to all of my writer friends), which is that it’s okay—necessary, in fact—to write “crappy” first drafts (she uses a different word, but you get the drift!). I can be a perfectionist to a fault, so remembering that first drafts are supposed to be rough helps me to get over the fear of bad writing, to quit judging myself, and just write.
Your career can go in so many different directions! Where do you see yourself going from here?
I’d like to think I’ve got several more books in my future – and that they won’t each require nine years to write! I’m excited as well to keep up with my travel writing. I love learning and writing about up-and-coming adventure destinations. It really doesn’t feel like a job.
Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
I have a piece of advice for writers, one I’ve been giving myself lately as I think about what’s next, which is this: if you’re going to put words to paper and hope that others might one day want to read them, write about something that moves you. Consider topics and conflicts and questions that stir something in you. Because if you’re passionate about something, that energy will radiate through your prose, bringing it to life in a way that resonates, in a way that feels believable, authentic. And really, that’s what readers want, to feel something, right? To be moved. To make a human connection. Your writing can be dark or sad or uplifting, just make sure it comes from the heart, as chances are if the subject moves you, it’ll move readers, too.