22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
Even though I have heard many stories by now about writers, début novels, and how the first published novel is not necessarily the first finished novel, I am still impressed when début authors manage to publish wonderful novels the first time out. Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road is one such début, exploring what happens to a Polish family attempting to reunite and build a new life in England after being separated for six years during World War II.
When Janusz Nowak finds his family in a refugee camp, he is told that his wife, Silvana, had been living and hiding in the woods outside Warsaw with their six-year-old son Aurek. Janusz has secrets from the war, and Silvana, only a shadow of her former vibrant self, has secrets of her own. However, the couple is determined to put the horrors of war behind them to raise their son. Janusz has bought and painstakingly prepared a home for them all at 22 Britannia Road. Silvana, fixated on Aurek having a relationship with his dad, goes about learning to keep house, until the secrets from the intervening years threaten to destroy the tenuous hold they have on being a family.
Hodgkinson has a lot going on in this story, not least of which is beautiful prose, crystal clear imagery, and complex characters. The past and present stories of Janusz, Silvana and Aurek unfold in alternating chapters that are captivating, and the weight of what they have endured is evident,even as we learn of the past experiences which have transformed them into who they are. Different characters and time periods were seamlessly woven, and my interest in the story never wavered, no matter which character I was with—past or the future.
Getting to know the characters, being able to feel the depth of their emotions, and learning what they hope to attain in their new lives made reading this novel incredibly moving and worthwhile. The love that Silvana has for her son is fierce (the bond strengthened by trauma), and Aurek’s slow adjustment from a starving wild child to one who is safe and loved, is carefully illustrated. Janusz’s mostly patient manner is tempered with frustration and high hopes for his family and relationship with his troubled son. There is a beauty in the way that Hodgkinson guides the reader between past and future events. I had definite ideas about what may have happened to them all, and it was rather nerve-racking see what would play out, and what would not, in this heartbreaking yet satisfying read.
Giveaway – I have two copies of 22 Britannia Road to give to readers with a US or Canadian address. Please fill out this form for entry to win a copy by Saturday, May 7th.