The rippling effects of war lie at the heart of Amanda Hodgkinson’s haunting debut novel, as one fractured family tries to build a new life together while each member struggles to bury memories from the past.
As 22 Britannia Road opens, Silvana Nowak, a 27-year-old Polish woman, and her son Aurek are on a boat to England where her husband Janusz awaits them. They have been apart for six years, since Aurek was one. Janusz joined the Polish army at the start of WWII, lost his regiment and ended up first in France, then England, where the RAF helped him locate the family he left behind.
Silvana and Aurek have spent most of the past six years hiding in the forests outside Warsaw, afraid to return there after the Germans arrived. Aurek has become a feral child, fearful around strangers and speaking with animal and bird sounds. Silvana is fiercely protective of him, as he is the only thing she has left from Poland and their years of deprivation. As she travels to England, she worries about how Janusz will react to her—“the ghost of the wife he once had.”
Janusz worries, too, about whether they will ever be able to be a family again. He had a lover in France who, though killed in the war, he knows he can never forget. Of Janusz, Hodgkinson writes, “He can understand nothing of the last six years . . . the way he left Warsaw and didn’t go back . . . the love he feels for another woman.” He knows he can never share this with Silvana, but he also knows he must try, so he buys a small house at 22 Britannia Road in Ipswich, plants an English garden and hopes they can somehow morph into a typical English family once reunited.
Hodgkinson moves back and forth in time between Poland, France and Ipswich, adeptly juxtaposing poetic descriptions of their pre-war lives with horrific memories from their years spent apart. This moving tale of what war has wrought on one family captures the reader from beginning to end, when these flawed characters finally come to their own fragile peace.
A Polish family shattered by World War II struggles to reunite in peace-time, in a strikingly mature British debut.
What comes after surviving? asks Hodgkinson in her ambitious, emotionally incisive first novel threaded with primitive human instincts for safety and companionship. Her central characters Silvana and Janusz Nowak meet and fall in love in 1937, marrying and moving to Warsaw when Silvana falls pregnant. As war approaches, Janusz joins up, expecting Silvana and their son Aurek to move in with his parents, but these plans are disrupted and Silvana ends up foraging in the forest alongside other survivors while Janusz embarks on a trek through Hungary and France to England. Reunited as British immigrants in a Suffolk town in 1946, the adults are scarred by their long separation, the events they witnessed and their secrets. Janusz had a French lover, HÃ©lÃ¨ne, while Silvana's savage and deprived existence has left Aurek half feral. In their new suburban existence the three try to restore normal relationships but simple yearning isn't enough and eventually the secrets drive them apart, Silvana into the open arms of Tony, the father of Aurek's school friend. Janusz now enters a period of destructive grief and Silvana has lessons to learn about Tony; it takes a gesture from Aurek to bring about a conclusion of surprising grace.
Hodgkinson enters boldly into well-trodden, sensitive territory and distinguishes herself with freshness and empathy.Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
This debut novel moves between wartime Poland and postwar England as it follows the shifting fortunes of Janusz Nowak and his wife, Silvana. Their young marriage is tested by the German invasion as Janusz enlists and Silvana finds herself left behind in Warsaw with their young son, Aurek. Janusz loses his regiment and ends up in England after spending time on a farm in France, where he has a passionate love affair. Silvana and Aurek escape into the forest and endure years of privation and abuse at the hands of their protectors. Their unexpected postwar family reunion is marred by the guilty secrets they each harbor. And in spite of Janusz's good job and comfortable home, the path to happiness is complicated by Aurek's mistrust of his father and the appearance of a dashing widower with a murky past, who is drawn to Silvana. VERDICT Fans of novels like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and Sarah's Key, who can never have too much of a good war story, will warm to this fine debut. Recommended.--Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont.[Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In her powerful debut, Hodgkinson takes on the tale of a family desperately trying to put itself back together after WWII. Silvana and Janusz have only been married a few months when the war forces them apart. Silvana and their infant son, Aurek, leave Poland and disappear into the forests of Eastern Europe, where they bear witness to German atrocities. Meanwhile Janusz, the sole survivor of his slaughtered military unit, flees to France. There, he takes up with a local girl and, though he loves her, awaits the war's end so that he can go in search of his wife and son. He eventually finds them in a refugee camp and they travel to England together, where they attempt to put the past behind them. But the secrets they carry pull at the threads of their fragile peace. Hodgkinson alternates viewpoints to relay the story of three desperate characters, skillfully toggling between the war and its aftermath with wonderfully descriptive prose that pulls the reader into a sweeping tale of survival and redemption. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC