From pre-war Poland through post-war England, Amanda Hodgkinson’s novel, 22 Britannia Road, brings the reader a unique perspective on war, separation, survival, and how people try to move forward.
The characters, Janusz and Silvana are married when he is conscripted and goes off to war, leaving Silvana behind. Silvana and their son, Aurek are left to literally fend for themselves. Silvana eventually make her way into the forests of Poland with Aurek, and hides there for several years.
Janusz makes his way to France, and from there, to England. He assimilates into English society, and overcomes the social stigmas of the immigrant through his determination and educating himself in order to fit in.
Janusz tries to locate his wife and son. He finds out that Silvana and Aurek are alive, and sends for them. He rents a house, tries to make it cheerful looking for his wife and son to settle in once they are all reunited. Little does he realize the hardships they have to overcome.
The reunion period is difficult. They each have secrets that they are hiding from each other. Each one is trying not to think of their past, and in doing so can not move forward. The secrets of their pasts are preventing them from living in the present. They are emotionally spent regarding the past, and can not bear the pain of remembering horrors and adversities they have witnessed and been involved in.
Janusz wants his family to be stable. He wants his son, Aurek, to love him, although, he himself, finds it difficult to relate to Aurek. Aurek is not the son Janusz dreamed he would be. He is quirky, odd, and acts more like an animal at times, and less like a human being. He has behavioral issues that others can’t comprehend. That is due to his hiding with his mother in the forest, and learning survival tactics within that environment, tactics learned as a toddler and carried through until his arrival in England. He knows only forest life.
Is there hope for this family? Will they be able to find a common ground in order to form a family unit after so long a separation? Will their secrets hold them back from moving forward? Will the desire each parent has for the safety of the child be enough to help them through the difficult adjustment times ahead of them?
Amanda Hodgkinson seems to have insight into the human condition, and as far as love and war, separation and reunion, is spot on, in my opinion, in the dynamics that are portrayed. The characters are not filled with vitality and liveliness, but rather filled with emotional hindrances. All three members of the family unit seem to be in states of oppression, forced upon them by their own attitudes. The after-effects of war, and how the war affected them, repressed their dynamics within their family unit, each in different respects. They were stuck in time and place, and adjusting to each other, once again, proved difficult. Love during war, and separation and survival do not always mean that reunions will prove to be positive experiences. Those involved often have to learn about each other all over again. From that viewpoint 22 Britannia Road is a well told story.
June 11, 2012 – 21 Sivan, 5772
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