22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 Britannia Road begins where World War II ends. It is the story of the reunion of a family separated at the start of the war. Janusz, Silvana and their son Aurek.

The couple was separated in the early days of the war.

Janusz joined the Polish army and survived German air attacks, but became separated
from his regiment. Knowing that he would be branded, treated as a deserter, he fled occupied Poland and made a difficult journey across Europe, to fight alongside the British.

Left behind in Warsaw, Silvana was treated brutally by occupying forces. And so she too fled, joining an exodus from the city, with her baby son in her arms. Eventually they found food and shelter in the great forest, but it came at a high price.

After the war Janusz begins the search for his family. And he begins to build them a future: He secures a job in an engineering works, and a home at 22 Britannia Road in the east coast market town of Ipswich.

And Silvana and Aurek are found in a refugee camp. The family will be reunited. But happy endings aren’t that easy.

Janusz and Silvana have had such different experiences. They are the still the same people, but the war has changed them. How could it not?

And however can a child who only remembers life in the forest, bound close to his mother, adapt to such a new, alien world?

Amanda Hodgkinson tells all of the family’s stories, painting such different pictures of their lives before, during and after the war. And each picture was filled with such vivid details.

Her prose was simple plain and clear, and it told me everything that I needed to know. I saw into the hearts and minds of all three members of the family, and I learned their secrets. They came alive, and I understood just why they acted as they did.

The stories of their lives before during and after the war were intertwined. Multiple viewpoints and narrators can be tricky, but with this book I had no problems. I think that was because I was always interested, I always cared.

The wartime stories were painful, but I held on because I knew that there was hope for the future. And the post-war stories captivated me as I watched the family struggle to cope with such different lives and the burdens of the secrets they carried.

And the question of how to come to terms with the past, how to accept change, whether it would be possible to build a new future never went away.

The story built to a conclusion that was both dramatic and right, and flowed so naturally out of the characters and their world.

22 Britannia Road is a thought-provoking and very readable debut novel. I will be very disappointed if I don’t see it winning plaudits, and maybe even listed for certain literary awards …

7 responses

  1. Ohhh, I think my interest in refugees trumps my general aversion to WWII lit here! Plus, you’ve completely sold me with this post. And *what* a cover!

  2. I thought this sounded terrible, but read the first few chapters when it was selected as one of the Waterstones 11 and fell in love with it. I’m pleased to see that the whole book is as good as the begininng and I hope to read it soon.

  3. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: June 25, 2011 | Semicolon

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