Here is a warning: do not read 22 Britannia Road if you want something light and entertaining. Don’t read it if you prefer not to think about a book.
Amanda Hodgkinson creates some memorable, if occasionally completely unlikeable, characters in 22 Britannia Road. The book opens with Janusz waiting at Victoria Station for his wife and son, some time after the end of WWII. Both husband and wife have changed deeply since the war, and it has been six years since they’ve seen each other. During that time, Janusz fought against the Germans, briefly lived in France (where he fell in love with someone not his wife), and settled in Ipswich, England, where he readies the home at 22 Britannia Road for his wife and son.
Sylvana and Aurek, the boy, lived in a forrest, hiding and escaping some – but not all – of the war’s horrors. Her once gorgeous chestnut hair is now completely grey and has been shaved. Aurek has no social skills and can’t tie his shoes. And yet Sylvana and Janusz (whom Aurek calls “The Enemy”) are determined to become a family.
It does not go smoothly.
Both Sylvana and Janusz are tortured by their wartime experiences.
Alone on his bed at night, he dreams. He enters his parents’ home, running up the porch steps. The heavy front door swings open and he calls for his mother but he knows he has arrived too late and everybody has gone. In one of the empty, high-ceilinged rooms is a dark-haired woman in a yellow dress. She stands up, takes off her dress and beckons to him, then maddeningly, quick as a fish in midstream, the dream changes direction and she’s gone. He wakes with a start, eyes open, heart thumping. He moves his hand toward the ache in his groin and twists his face into the pillow. This loneliness will kill him, he’s sure of it.
Things do not get less lonely for Janusz when his wife and son come to him. If anything, the couple grows more distant as they attempt to overcome their hidden scars. There are sad, shocking revelations. Aurek is a whole other story. The kid has, let’s just say, issues. But who can blame him? Who can blame anyone in this book?
22 Britannia Road is moving and heartbreaking. There are no easy answers or easy cures for Sylvana, Janusz and Aurek. Their suffering, we fear, will never end, but Amanda Hodgkinson does give us some relief in the hope that it will.
When you read this, and you should, do not attempt to rush through it. Savor the sadness. You will be thankful that you did.
Published by Penguin Group USA and available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.