22 Britannia Road is a strong debut novel from Amanda Hodgkinson about picking up the pieces after World War II. Janusz and Silvana Nowack are newlyweds who barely out of adolesence and with a year old baby, Aurek. When Germany and Russia invade their homeland of Poland, Janusz goes to enlist and tells Silvana to leave Warsaw and go to his parents in the country. Unfortunately, things don’t turn out quite as Janusz planned, and he ends up getting separated from his regiment and going on the run with a couple of other deserters until he can reach France and then England. Silvana has to take to the forest, where she and Aurek hide for six years and become as wild as their surroundings. When the Allies arrive in Poland, Silvana and Aurek are sent to a refugee camp, where, with the help of a social worker, Janusz finds them and brings them to Ipswich, on the coast of England, to start a new life at 22 Britannia Road. Janusz and Silvana quickly learn that it will be impossible to go back to how things were before the war, especially when both of them have secrets from their time apart that they would prefer the other never learn.
This is a story that is at times very difficult to read because the characters can seem callous. I had to keep reminding myself that in wartime, particularly during World War II, the survival instinct governs most decisions, and this made a lot Janusz and Silvana’s actions easier to stomach. The fact that it took so long for Silvana and Aurek to leave behind their habits from the forest also rang very true, especially as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors who continue to be affected by the war. Aurek was most interesting to watch as he learned to trust the father he never knew and to feel safe in a home that wasn’t in the wild.
The ups and downs of Janusz and Silvana’s story kept me thoroughly engaged, from their vastly different experiences during World War II to their attempts to build a new life in England. I spent the entire time wondering if they were going to make it and if their secrets, as they were revealed, would destroy them. This became even more important as Aurek grew comfortable with his new life.
Ms. Hodgkinson also captured the various eras and settings of the novel beautifully. I especially loved her depiction of post-war, age-of-austerity England and the difficulties that Janusz encountered in trying to achieve a prosperous life as a foreigner in a country under hard times.
22 Brittania Road was one of those books that I sped through in a matter of hours. It’s a truly incredible read with a very satisfying resolution, and I can’t wait to see more from Ms. Hodgskinson.