22 Britannia Road
by Amanda Hodgkinson
A book-loving friend of mine commented recently on my blog: “Don’t you like anything?!” But I think that reading with discrimination doesn’t mean I don’t like certain novels; it just means I tend to notice stylistic or plot devices that just don’t promote story. I am an avowed story glutton–give me a narrative that rings true any day. And in Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road I found an almost perfect story.
Set during and immediately after World War II, the novel follows the Nowak family. Husband Januscz worked in the Polish underground and roamed Europe while his young wife Silvana and toddler Aurek stay behind (briefly) in Warsaw. But as the Germans and Russians advanced, they, too, left for the countryside. Both their experiences destroyed much of their hope for the future and left them far different people–Januscz loved again, and lost; Silvana lives an almost feral life in the forests of Poland. At the war’s end, Januscz miraculously finds his young family in a refugee camp and brings them to England–22 Britannia Road, to be exact–to continue their lives where they had left off. But can they?
One of the things I loved about this story is that it was clear from the beginning that there was a secret of some sort–which I promptly figured out, then doubted, and finally learned the truth. Januscz’s desire to return to the family they once were was so very much like a man. Silvana’s distance as she tried to make sense of her past and present was so very much like a woman and her fierce attachment to their son Aurek made sense, given the horrors they had experienced. Or did it? (And so the secret begins to unravel …)
22 Britannia was a quick read because it was so compelling–I can’t imagine any reader unsatisfied.