Book Review: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Title: 22 Britannia Road
Author: Amanda Hodgkinson
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II fiction
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from GoodReads First Reads program
First line: The boy was everything to her.

Silvana and Janusz were young, happily married, and the parents of an infant son when World War II broke out and Russia and Germany invaded their native Poland. They are separated for six years, and reunite in Britain at the end of the war. Their son, Aurek, is now 7. Silvana and Aurek survived by hiding out mainly in the forests of Poland, and Aurek is almost feral. Janusz and Silvana are both harboring secrets of things that happened to them during the war, and of things they had to do in order to survive. As they attempt to build a family out of the remnants of their history, the things they are keeping hidden will refuse to be ignored.

22 Britannia Road belongs to one of my favorite sub-sections of historical fiction – the stories of World War II. There seems to be no end to the number of stories that can be told about that war, and many of the books written about this time period are my most memorable reads. Because of that, I thought I would love this book. I really wanted to love this book. And while the writing is beautiful and the characters memorable, ultimately, it left me cold.

Since I finished the book, I’ve been puzzling over reasons for my apathy. I keep coming back to one fact: Janusz and Silvana encounter many people during their war years, and the vast majority of them turn out to be wretched people. I understand that war often necessitates people to do terrible things, but often the people who Silvana and Janusz were forced to turn to in order to survive were malicious and mean-spirited. One of the things I love about World War II fiction is the way ordinary people are forced to do amazing things – and often perform selfless acts in order to help those around them. This was not that type of book.

While at times redemptive, his couple’s story is ultimately full of despair and the darkness became too much for me. Hodgkinson’s writing is beautiful and poetic, and she captured the hearts of the three main characters beautifully. I simply could not connect emotionally with the characters or their story – and that may be out of self-preservation, an attempt to protect myself from the devastation in these pages.

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17 Responses to Book Review: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    Oh dear. I noticed quite a few people got their hands on this one, and I was jealous. But now maybe not. The beauty of WWII books, like you said, is that out of the horror comes stories of bravery and hope. Two totally opposite forces, which is probably why we are so drawn to this genre. If the story is nothing but nastiness, it wouldn’t be something I’d want to read I think.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – I was really concerned it was just me and I was in some sort of a funk, but have heard from other bloggers that they had the same experience with this one. I have two more WW II novels to review – reading them in July – so hoping I’m not WW II’d out.

  2. lilly says:

    I have no intention of reading this book for maybe a silly reason but still… I am Polish, have lived in Poland for 25 years of my life and the name of one of the main characters simply doesn’t exist in Polish language. Silvana is not a Polish name, I have never met a Polish person with that name and it just irks me that the author didn’t bother to do enough research to know that, especially that this character is the main one, not just some random person appearing briefly in the story. Maybe it’s just me but it really put me off reading this book at all.

  3. lilly says:

    Oh and Aurek is not a Polish name either. It’s actually Arek.

  4. Anna says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this one. You know how I love WWII novels. You’ve raised some interesting thoughts about the characters and their actions during wartime. I’ll have to read it and find out for myself, especially since I can’t think of a WWII novel off the top of my head where I didn’t feel some emotional connection to the main characters. I’ll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Anna – I’ll be interested to see what you think of this one.

  5. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads
    says:

    I read this a couple of weeks ago, and liked it a bit more than you did, but not much. I happened to read another WWII novel with a Polish setting straight afterwards as well and I think that helped me to identify what didn’t quite work for me.

    The thing about this book for me, is that it really is something of a misnomer to label it a WWII book. It really is a book about a dysfunctional family. The reasons that they are dysfunctional go back to the events in the war, they are shaped by the war, but really it is about the lies within the relationship, about trying to forge a new life in a different place etc.

    The other thing is that the secrets were pretty obvious to the reader, with no attempts to hide his secret at all, and little attempt in relation to hers so the big reveal of her secret was no surprise to the reader at all, but then she tried to hide it later in the book in the narrative. So I am not sure if it was deliberately easy for the reader to know what happened or what?

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Marg – you’re right in both points. And I definitely agree that the whole secret thing wasn’t handled well – not sure if the author was trying to keep it from the reader or not.

  6. irene says:

    this genre is one I particularly am drawn to, I’m sorry it didn’t hit the mark for you. I’ll be watching for your other reviews.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Irene – I know others are having a better experience with this one, so it could just be me. :)

  7. Alita says:

    I have read other books in which everything just went wrong all the time for characters and I had to put them down for my own mental health. This seems like it would be one of those books. Too bad, because the premise sounds interesting.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Alita – yes, it can be difficult to get through a book like this.

  8. Emm
    Twitter: missus_emm
    says:

    You have such a lovely style of writing! I hadn’t really been interested in historical fiction, far preferring non-fiction and biographies over fiction, but I started reading really good works of historical fiction last November and am now looking for more. I’ll give this one a miss though.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Emm – thanks so much! If you want a really good work of WW II historical fic – give The Postmistress a try.