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.