22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson – Book Review

22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson
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.

 

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Read More Reviews At: The Website of Gillian E Hamer | Life By Candelight | The Burton Review

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31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton – Book Review

31 Hours

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

When Carol Meitzner wakes up in the middle of the night she is as sure as anything that her son, Jonas, is in danger. Even though she tries to keep calm and give her 21-year old a healthy amount of space to live his life and make his own decisions, in the back of her mind she knows that it’s not like him to be out of touch with her. She knows that she has to get to him. Carol does the best she can to keep her fear in check and to make discrete inquiries into Jonas’ possible whereabouts, but what she doesn’t know is that she only has 31 hours to find him. Or else…

Jonas has always been reserved and sensitive; even as a child, he was observant and deeply affected by his interactions with the world. Now, in some undisclosed location in New York City, Jonas is preparing to make a statement in a manner that he believes to be the only way to make a difference in a world that is too callous, cruel, and hypocritical to meet the needs of its citizens.

There is something to be said for opening up a book when you are able to give it your full attention. When I first cracked this open I was in a hotel room in Washington, DC for the National Book Festival, whooping it up with roomies Trish and Amy, and definitely not in the frame of mind for a book that would require my full attention. Unfocused, I read the first few pages and saw wolves howling and Manhattan traffic and thought, “Huh? Don’t know if I will like this.” Boy, was I wrong.

I tried again after returning home, started again from the beginning, and I could not put this one down! I would try to move on to something else but somehow just a short time later I would find myself with the book in hand. It’s a little book, which through snapshot portrayals examines 31 hours in the lives of not only Jonas and his mother, but also those most likely to be affected by his final acts—his girlfriend Vic, and her sister Mara among them. Hamilton powerfully moves right into the heart of each character and reveals their dreams, aspirations and fears, all the while giving a glimpse into the history they have with each other and how it is has shaped their lives.

The characterizations are some of the strongest I have seen, and they were heart wrenching. Hamilton does an excellent job of portraying Jonas’s parents—one struggling with irrational fear/intuition, the other believing that their son is growing into a man and only needs his space. The novel does an excellent job of exploring the issues facing the characters without being judgmental or preachy. Troubled marriages, and questions of faith and religion are set forth to be examined, but are not framed as indictments. They are presented as the facts of each family’s situation. I loved seeing the nuances and complexities of their situations. The character of Sonny Hirt, in particular, opened me up to a different perspective of freedom, and the incredible assumptions that we make about the way all of us should live and function. I loved seeing that other way.

31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton, is wonderful. It examines the possibilities behind some of the unknowable facets driving human behavior, and how much we can know one another and the actions of which we are capable. Ultimately, it is a haunting reminder of how much each moment and hour of living is an act of trust. It’s a reminder of how the fragility of our existence is so quickly and easily unraveled.

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Read More Reviews At: Beth Fish Reads / Booking Mama / Bermuda Onion / I’m Booking It

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