Students in Frances Thrower and Jennifer Williams’s English classes were assigned the novel based on Hunter’s own family members that were described as, “Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see one another again, the Kurcs must rely on hope, ingenuity, and inner strength to persevere” (onebookthomascounty.org).
Hunter described the process behind the nine-year “labor of love” that became her debut novel. Hunter was originally inspired to write about her family when she was given an assignment in her junior year of high school to interview a family member.
Ironically, Thrower’s students are working on a similar project that involves her students interviewing a person from another generation as a culminating extension after their reading of the book.
Williams said that her students were excited to have the best-selling author come and speak about her writing interest that was sparked in high school.
Hunter then shared how she discovered her grandfather’s Polish and Jewish heritage when she interviewed her grandmother for the assignment. She later moved forward with her project in her later years of college when her mother planned a gathering of cousins from all over the world who began exchanging shared memories of their own as well as of their ancestors.
Hunter explained to the students the extent of her research which involved global travel as well as the search for primary sources that would help to fill in the blanks beyond her interviews with family members. She also went on to explain the difference between historical fiction and non-fiction and her reason for going with historical fiction.
“Most of the people I interviewed were 2nd generation survivors; so I felt like I couldn’t give a first-hand account of the thoughts and feelings of the characters if I made the book non-fiction,” said Hunter.
Hunter read a special scene that described the escape of one character from the walls of a Polish ghetto with her daughter hidden beneath a coat that she had crafted from a wool blanket to match those that would be worn by a German wife.
The introductory pages of the novel explain, “By the end of the Holocaust, 90 percent of Poland’s three million Jews were annihilated; of the more than thirty thousand Jews who lived in Radom, fewer than three hundred survived.”
Hunter explained to the students that she felt as though she had to “time travel” as she imagined people being shot in the street for target practice. She wanted to honor and reflect what was going on with many Jews even though members of her family ended up being “the lucky ones.”
Freshman Ashley McKay said that We Were the Lucky Ones is now one of her favorite novels. It made her want to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next.
“While she [Hunter] was talking to the class and showing pictures of the characters, it dawned on me that this really happened to real people,” said McKay.
“Getting to ask her personal questions about her travels and discoveries and experience writing the book was so cool,” said freshman Laine Oldham.
Thrower said that her students enjoyed reading the novel, and meeting the author was a special treat. They learned about the dedication that goes into writing.
“Students saw that following your dreams can be a lot of work, but that great rewards are possible,” said Thrower.
“Georgia Hunter’s visit was an inspirational and motivating to my students,” said Williams.