22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin/Viking/Pamela Dorman Books (April 28, 2011)
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
A tour de force that echoes modern classics like Suite Francaise and The Postmistress.Light, witty, fun and entertaining this is not. Provocative, emotive and despairing it is. 22 Britannia Road follows the effects of World War II on a wife and husband who were apart for six years because of the war. Silvana and Janusz were newlyweds in Poland when Janusz goes to become a soldier, and both meet up with horrific circumstances that are beyond their control. Silvana and her son Aurek survive in the forest, making acquaintances along the way, and Janusz travels throughout Europe during the war. The novel is more character driven and not focused on the details of the war, but it was a backdrop for why these two were put in the position they were in.
"Housekeeper or housewife?" the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they'll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. "Survivor," she answers.
Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn't know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.
One of the most searing debuts to come along in years, 22 Britannia Road
Finally the two reconnect and attempt to rebuild their lives in Ipswich, England. Silvana is no longer the svelte redhead, but a gray haired mess who lived on twigs and bugs for the last six years. Their son Aurek is not quite the social butterfly. The family needs to adjust to each other, to England, and communicate through the secrets that have built walls between them. The novel's title is the address of the house that Janusz buys in England, hoping for a renewed life as an English family with English roses. They have pleasant neighbors, Janusz works hard at his job, and there should be no issues. However, there are secrets that they both keep, and the boy himself creates a lot of havoc as he doesn't fit it in at school and is not used to sharing his mother with anyone. A fantastic feature to the present story is the back and forth between time lines of the struggles during the war from each of Janusz's and Silvana's viewpoints. Sometimes this switching back and forth becomes jarring, but the author did it so well and cohesively as the underlying tone of each chapter merged with the next, it was a seamless transition.
Not just about the themes of love, friendship and loyalty, it holds the darkness of secrets and the quiet tremors of fear of one's future. The novel, along with its beautiful cover, brings about a sense of hope along with the silent plea for normalcy after such a horrific time. They all just want to be a family, but there are more than just emotional scars that hinder their progress. Laced with suspense as we watch the characters develop and self-destruct, 22 Brittania Road is a formidable page-turning debut novel that tugs at your heartstrings.
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