Amanda Hodgkinson, 22 Britannia Road (2011)

I first heard of this book in Danielle’s blog, and I immediately added it to my wish list (even if it took me another two years to find the book at the library and read it). What drew me in was the setting in Post-war Britain and the idea of a family trying to find peace and normal life after the upheavals of European destruction.

Janusz and Silvana got married in Poland in 1937 and soon got a son, Aurek, blissfully unaware of the impending threats onto their small world. The mobilization order sends Janusz to the front, although he quickly finds himself separated from his battalion and drifts in the countryside. Silvana and Aurek are adrift in Warsaw, then on bombed-out country roads and into hideouts in the woods. Miraculously, they “make it to the other side” and get reunited in the little house on 22, Britannia Road in Ipswich, where a brand-new life awaits them.

War has changed them, and they all harbor dark secrets that stop them from opening up to one another. They obviously want to put the past behind them, but it’s not something they can turn their back on as easily as time, distance and their new country would let them think at first.

I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the book, but I had some reservations. The characters were so emotionally detached (although I realize it’s probably what the writer wanted us to feel) that it was difficult to relate to them. At some point, I even found them annoying, because they were so passive, letting war-time and peace-time events glide on them. Also, it should be pointed out that on the scale of horrors that truly happened during the war in Poland, this family didn’t do so badly. I’d be tempted to say that people who did survive such an ordeal would have been more determined (shown more grit, as it’s very fashionable to say now), but then what would I know? Maybe the writer just wanted to tell about one lucky family, and discuss what may hide behind this word of “luck”.

On the same idea, I had way more satisfaction with Natasha Solomon’s Mr. Rosenblum’s List, which doesn’t deal with the war trauma itself, but with adapting to a new country in a post-war context and how to deal with the past. While Mr. and Mrs. Rosenblum were trying to come to terms with a new identity, Silvana and Janusz are just at the very first step of the way.

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3 thoughts on “Amanda Hodgkinson, 22 Britannia Road (2011)

  1. Do you think they were emotionally detached or emotionally exhausted? I only know my own experience of coming through an ordeal is that it doesn’t make a person feel stronger afterwards, and in fact quite the opposite. The thought of everything that’s happened, and the outrage and shock that it should have happened certainly puts me into a place where I’m sort of lying low, unable to motivate myself and feeling unequal to new challenges. I’m just keeping solidarity here with all us wimps of the world! ;-)

    • Dear LL, they’re probably as detached as exhausted. I can relate intellectually with this, but it does make the reading experience a lot more difficult. Another way around would have been to have a third party narrator with a warm voice that would try to get beyond the icy shell of these characters. But it’s not very plausible that anyone would be able to “get” to them in this post-traumatic period.

  2. For me, in a book,the characters are paramount. If I don’t connect…if they aren’t people I want to sit with and talk to…I enjoy the experience a lot less. I like your idea of a third party narrator. The premise of the story sounds very interesting, though.

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