Monday, July 16, 2012

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

2 Star

"Housekeeper or housewife?" the soldier asks Silvana as she and eight- year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England at the end of World War II. There her husband, Janusz, is already waiting for them at the little house at 22 Britannia Road. But the war has changed them all so utterly that they'll barely recognize one another when they are reunited. "Survivor," she answers.

Silvana and Aurek spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland. Wild, almost feral Aurek doesn't know how to tie his own shoes or sleep in a bed. Janusz is an Englishman now-determined to forget Poland, forget his own ghosts from the way, and begin a new life as a proper English family. But for Silvana, who cannot escape the painful memory of a shattering wartime act, forgetting is not a possibility.

Lydia - 2 Star

The portrayal of World War II in 22 Britannia Road doesn't hold back, which I really appreciated, but unfortunately I found it came across as emotionally stilted - which maybe was the point. These were characters hardened by war and had lived through torturous years apart when the war separated the recently married couple. But I still couldn't help wanting more. I wanted to empathize and root for these characters and their relationship, but didn't seem to be able to. Unfortunately the idea of this novel was fabulous, but the follow through I ultimately found disappointing.

The one thing this novel opened my eyes too was just how many couples were displaced during and after the war and how easy it was to pick up and find a new life, completely abandoning the old one. I can see the appeal based on circumstance and how difficult it must have been to go back to normalcy after everything had changed and how much each person would have changed. It made me yearn for a more romantic story to come out of this novel, and this one was slow growing and didn’t fulfill what I had anticipated.

I wanted more of a spark to Janusz and Silvana’s relationship from the beginning, which might have made the rest of the novel more believable. A sense of duty brought them back together, but there wasn't anything there to hold onto and I found it difficult to root for their relationship. Janusz had more spark with Helene and their relationship seemed much more believable while Silvana was cold and emotionless most of the time.

None of Silvana's interpersonal relationships carried any depth nor did they seem real to me and I found her character to be contradictory. She’s a survivor and is like a big momma bear with her son, but then she lets Janusz tell her how to get on with things and what to do. I expected she would have stood up for herself a bit more. I do realize the time they were living in, but after her experiences, I thought she would have more spark when the war ended but maybe she was just happy to let someone else lead. The is especially evident where her son is concerned, but she pretty much lets Janusz do whatever he pleased, which surprised me after the lengths she went to keep her son safe.
I really wanted more shown of the boy and his feral ways. How he was suddenly shipped off to school after three months back to 'normal', in a different country, in a different language when he would never have been to school before surprised me. I wanted to see more from his perspective rather than him simply running away from school. I wanted to see his integration, as well as more of Silvana’s and had hoped for more here.

There were a few tender scenes that I did appreciate in 22 Britannia Road, but they came so late that I couldn’t really grow excited about them. Ultimately this novel fell short for me and I was disappointed that what could have been a fantastic plot was dragged down by wooden, unrelatable characters.

Thank you to Penguin USA for our review copy!

Connect with Amanda Hodgkinson here:

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