Hunter writes movingly from many different perspectives, and the only fault to find is that the number of characters — and her fidelity to the real story — can make the narrative confusing at times. But the book moves at a swift, devastating pace, and she makes us care about every soul whose life is threatened.
Historical context is provided by the chunks of exposition that are folded into the personal stories, which are compellingly told. Amid the many accounts of Jews who did not survive the Holocaust, this novel stands out in its depiction of one lucky family who, miraculously, did.
Georgia Hunter presumably loves her family and didn’t want to insult anyone when she set out to write a fictionalized account of how these well-to-do, assimilated Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. Unfortunately, that means her end product emerges as an adventure story about a set of stick figures, each one more beautiful and noble than the next ... To her credit, Hunter smoothly keeps track of this sprawling cast as they move from one temporary hideout to another across five continents, and the narrative rarely flags. The writing, meanwhile, is serviceable. Hunter’s overreliance on clichés is rescued by occasional flares of strong sensory descriptions ... Most powerfully and beautifully, the novel conveys the family’s love for Radom ... Yet she failed to take advantage of the opportunities fiction offers for depth of characterization. She could have created flesh-and-blood people with faults and weaknesses—and then claimed that, after all, it was only fiction and her relatives in real life were much nicer.
Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché ... Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town 'a total shitscape.' This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable.