I found this book well written, absorbing, and more than a little grim.
It very effectively portrayed a world turned upside down, which proceeded to turn inside out as well.
Summary via Goodreads:
In her powerful debut, Hodgkinson takes on the tale of a family desperately trying to put itself back together after WWII. Silvana and Janusz have only been married a few months when the war forces them apart. Silvana and their infant son, Aurek, leave Poland and disappear into the forests of Eastern Europe, where they bear witness to German atrocities. Meanwhile Janusz, the sole survivor of his slaughtered military unit, flees to France. There, he takes up with a local girl and, though he loves her, awaits the war’s end so that he can go in search of his wife and son. He eventually finds them in a refugee camp and they travel to England together, where they attempt to put the past behind them. But the secrets they carry pull at the threads of their fragile peace. Hodgkinson alternates viewpoints to relay the story of three desperate characters, skillfully toggling between the war and its aftermath with wonderfully descriptive prose that pulls the reader into a sweeping tale of survival and redemption.
On the surface, it seems time for the happily-ever-after. The war is over, and Silvana is leaving her destroyed land of Poland to join her husband in England. He has a good job, and their son can go to school, get a good education, and grow up in a stable, happy world.
Life is never that easy, and the past is part of the present and the future. Silvana and Aurek have a more difficult time adjusting than Janusz can understand.
The strength of this book is in the setting, and the contrast of the flashbacks to wartime Poland and France, and the scenes of life in Post-war England. The characters (major and minor) serve to build and reinforce these portraits.
This isn’t to say that the characters aren’t compelling on their own. Silvana in particular has true depth and interest as she meets challenge after challenge, never knowing if she will be able to handle the next one. She keeps going, as her fierce protection of Aurek leads her to stretch beyond what she can imagine. The hardest time may be when his need for her is no longer as strong.
I had a hard time rating this one– the quality was at 4.5 stars for me, but the gloom just kept me from completely being sucked in and compelled, making the overall experience closer to a 3.5 star one for me. I compromised at the 4 stars listed.
I received 22 Britannia Road from Pamela Dorman Books for review. Thank you for this opportunity!