Their love was once young and playful. They had each other, their son, and the beginnings of a promising future. Then came the war. With the advent of World War II, Janusz, a patriotic man, went off to fight, while his wife and son planned to stay with her in-laws. But Warsaw was overtaken more quickly than anyone thought possible, and Silvana found that she had hesitated too long. She and the boy barely escape into the woods, where they face new and different horrors.
Six years separated the once happy family. Janusz had almost lost any hope of finding his wife and son. Then a miracle happened, and the family was reunited. But now, as long as Poland remains under Communist rule, the family will not return to their homeland. They settle into a peasant cottage in England, at 22 Britannia Road. Janusz works hard to provide for his family, and Silvana tries to adjust to living in a house again. Their six-year-old son Aurek clings to his mother, not sure he's comfortable with his new surroundings.
In no time at all, they learn that recapturing the carefree days of their early marriage is going to be harder than anyone imagined. The war has not only robbed them of six years together, it has left them strangers to each other. While Silvana wants her son to have a life with two parents, Aurek views his father with mistrust and fear. It's little wonder. The men who Aurek and his mother encountered during their exile in the forest sought more in the way of opportunity than honor. Silvana did what she had to do to survive and keep her son safe. Unfortunately, what it did to her spirit and her psyche may unravel her marriage. She thought she could make it work, but as the days stretch on, she's unsure.
"She had been lost and he [Janusz] had found her. He must have thought he was reaching back into the past; that she would be as she was when he left her….He couldn't know that the past was dead and she was the ghost of the wife he once had."
The casualties of war aren't confined just to soldiers. Unthinkable atrocities occur as though all the laws of civilized man have been suspended. The ones left behind are often at the mercy of inscrutable people. Silvana and Aurek found themselves the victims of such men no matter how hard they tried to avoid them. Now it would be wonderful to take up where they had left off, if only the memories of the intervening time could be erased. But they must face their new realities.
22 BRITANNIA ROAD, Amanda Hodgkinson's stunning debut novel, is a moving story of survival as well as a story of love and redemption. Written with heartbreaking emotion, its message will find a way to touch every reader.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on May 2, 2011