three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-22BritanniaAmanda Hodgkinson grew up in a fishing village in England where her parents ran a secondhand book shop. She earned an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. 22 Britannia Road is her first novel.

The Story: At the end of World War II, Polish exile Janusz Nowak has not seen his wife and son for six years when he learns they are alive in a refugee camp. Silvana and Aurek survived by living in the Polish forest for years, hunting rabbits and hiding from German soldiers. Janusz brings them to live with him in England, at 22 Britannia Road, but nothing is normal. Not only is the couple still recovering from the horrors of war, but they each possess new secrets. Can they confront what has happened in those missing years to salvage what is left of their fragile, broken family?
Pamela Dorman Books. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780670022632

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Successfully weaving three narrative strands and three different viewpoints is a challenge to any novelist, let alone a tyro, but it's one that Amanda Hodgkinson meets with accomplishment. ... Silvana is utterly individual; one doesn't sympathise with some of her prickly or naive reactions, but one is forced to understand them and to long for her happiness." Rachel Hore

Washington Independent Review of Books 4 of 5 Stars
"Hodgkinson's description of post-war British austerity will come as a revelation to a generation that thinks it has it rough in a recession that would have passed for paradise in 1946. That people (in a nation that won the war!) could take such pleasure in a cup of tea, a dollop of jam, a day in the park, a ragged coat, a shot of whiskey or a ride in a third-hand car is a sobering reminder of a time of real want." Lawrence De Maria

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is Hodgkinson's portrait of the primal bond between mother and child, her visceral understanding of the gorgeous, terrible weight of love mothers must carry, war or no war, secret or no secret, that leaves an indelible impression." Sarah Towers

Financial Times (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"[T]he passages that push the plot forward often feel dutiful, while more literary elements--such as the extended parallels between Janusz's garden and Aurek's forest--feel contrived. 22 Britannia Road deserves a warm welcome but with reservations--a sentiment that Janusz's neighbours would surely understand." Adrian Turpin

Critical Summary

In a market saturated with war-era fiction, 22 Britannia Road stands out from the crowd. Silvana's struggles to keep her child alive and Janusz's attempts to reconnect with his son provide the book's most memorable scenes. Critics were split on Hodgkinson's use of flashbacks and multiple narratives; some felt they have a jolting effect on the reader. But all agreed "the strength of this novel lies in its characters" (Independent). Readers will root for the Nowak family and will hope they can build a future that is new, strong, and lasting.