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VINE VOICEon April 28, 2011
This is the story of a Polish couple, Silvana and Janusz and their son Aurek. They met and married in 1937. As both the Russians and the Germans invaded Poland in 1940 the couple is separated. He joins the military and after a long journey, typical of Poles who chose to fight on after the defeat of their country, ends up in the RAF in England. She initially raped by a German soldier, flees with their son to a live in the forests of Poland. The story opens in 1946 as the couple is reunited after their six year separation. Building on the memories of a deeply loving relationship before the war the couple tries to reestablish their family life. Each has secrets that they do not share with thevother. These secrets, the crux of the story, are slowly revealed in two separate threads. No more spoilers from me on the story!

This book is vividly written and has complexity to the plot that continues to draw you in right up until the last chapter. The long lasting effects of war on people are brilliantly portrayed in the story. In post war Britain, the couple has every advantage- an intact family, a house, a car, a good job - but the lingering effects of what happened to them during the war destroy their chances to go forward. The son has been deeply influenced by his time in the forests avoiding both Germans and Russians and living off the land. In one scene his father shows him how to collect and save birds eggs and the boy can only think of how he wants to eat the eggs contents as he did so often in the forests. He has a particularly difficult time socializing and entering into normal relationships. It was heartbreaking and at times almost too sad to bear. In the end though this story is a triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
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on May 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
That is how Janusz describes his wife Silvana as he embraces her in a scene about two-thirds through this book, and it seems to be the first insightful thing he thinks about her. I chose this book from the Vine program because it sounded like a wonderful, moving premise for a novel, but I was disappointed. I expected it to be sad, but I also expected to feel for and empathize with characters who had been through so much. I found I just couldn't care about Janusz and Silvana; when they first meet as teenagers, they are just a couple of horny kids, feeling an instant physical attraction and apparently not much else. Silvana comes from a miserable, dysfunctional peasant family and seems motivated only by the desire to escape; Janusz seems to ask her to marry him out of duty, suggesting perhaps he's gotten her pregnant. Either way, I didn't feel like I knew the characters - what were their likes, dislikes, dreams, motivations? They seemed very young and unformed, understandably so, but the love they shared did not feel strong enough to last through six years of war.

I agree with another reviewer here who noted that Janusz' time spent wandering around Europe before finally getting to England seems far-fetched. Janusz seems quite amenable to staying put wherever he lands and sitting out the war - first the goose woman's cottage, then Helene's parents' farm - he seems quite weak and easily lead and just goes along. Granted, his life has been totally turned upside down, but I don't get the impression he's burning to fight for his country, or to see his wife and child again, or to do much of anything, except have an affair with Helene.

Silvana has a much rougher time (women in war often do), but she seems very shallow and unformed as well, basically a hollow shell doing whatever she's told by Hanka, then Gregor, then Janusz, then Tony . . . She and her son Aurek endure a much harsher deprivation in the forests of Poland, but something about that also didn't ring true for me. It went on way too long and became boring, and it seemed uneven - they stay for months with one farmer, then the Germans are coming and they must move on; then they wander a day and Gregor finds them and brings them into his dubious fold; next time they're abandoned they wander for days and days and see no sign of life - but then a farmer finds them near death. A while later, Gregor comes back into the picture and I thought, how come they didn't find Gregor or this farmer while they were wandering lost in apparently the same vicinity? Are these the densest, deepest, most desolate woods ever or the forest from "Midsummer Night's Dream", with characters constantly wandering on and off stage? It just seemed inconsistent. First Silvana is tough and independent, hunting and skinning animals with Gregor, and he tells her she'd be perfect for the Resistance - but when she and Aurek are alone again, they're eating whatever they find but almost starving. She forgot how to trap and hunt? Again, it seemed inconsistent.

I felt like I never got to know Janusz or Silvana, and I don't think they knew each other. They were so secretive with each other; I couldn't help thinking real lovers/partners would eventually share and talk about what they'd endured, seen, learned about themselves; not all at once, of course, but in dribs and drabs. Janusz and Silvana lived in the same house but seemed to rarely speak with or to each other; there seems to be no REAL talking until the last five pages. I frankly didn't care by that point; it just reinforced for me the feeling that here were two people who didn't have much in common to begin with - I couldn't help feeling sorry for Janusz for missing out on his chance with Helene! Finally, the plot twist at the end of the book with Tony (no spoilers, I promise), really seemed out of left field and I agree with another reviewer here, at that point the story seemed to descend into melodrama. If I didn't have to write a review of this book for the Vine program, I probably wouldn't have finished it.

I know some readers will find this a satisfying story of survival and "primal maternal love" as the back cover says, and I did find several of the scenes between Silvana and Aurek, and between Janusz and Aurek touching and almost painful; they wanted so much to be a family again. I also feel the author provided a somewhat interesting, if dreary, story of life in post-war Britain; but the love story between Silvana and Janusz just didn't work for me, or it was a case of too little, too late. I pitied the main characters but just couldn't like or care much about them, so I didn't like the book as much as I might have and rated it accordingly.
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The place is Ipswich, in the East of England. Janusz Novak, who has escaped from Poland at the beginning of the Second World War and served as an engineer with the Royal Air Force, has taken a house with a small garden at 22 Britannia Road. By some miracle, his wife Silvana has also survived and is coming to join him, together with their son Aurek, whom Janusz has not seen since he was a baby. It seems a happily-ever-after ending, the family reunited. Only this is not the ending, but a new beginning, and not an easy one.

There are at least three layers to the story here, and I am not sure that they benefit by being laid on top of one another. One is the simple immigrant story that has been told many times, with different specifics (Andrea Levy's SMALL ISLAND being one magnificent example): what is it like to make a new life in a strange country, especially one beset by rationing, austerity measures, and labor unrest? Amanda Hodgkinson handles this effectively and without fuss. I could imagine Silvana's difficulties with the neighbors and the shops, Aurek's problems at school, and Janusz' determination to make a proper English home. I could imagine them, but not truly feel them in my gut; Hodgkinson's descriptions seem accurate rather than achingly personal.

The second layer was the one that moved me most: how people come back together after a separation. Janusz and Silvana were only just married when Aurek was born, and had hardly been tested as a couple. They are separated at the start of the war under circumstances where neither even knows that the other is alive. Now, six years later, they come together almost as strangers. They have each been changed by time, in some ways that they will only discover by putting them to the test. There is gratitude there and the memory of affection, but the main thing that connects them is their child. Yet Aurek sees his father as "the enemy" and resents him as a threat. The slow process through which Janusz gradually comes to win the boy's confidence is truly heartwarming. It would almost be worth reading the book if it dealt with nothing more than the repair of a broken family.

But there is more: the third layer. Both Janusz and Silvana have led difficult lives in the war, leaving them with secrets they do not want to share, traumatic suffering and dangerous moments of disturbing joy. We get a hint of this very early on, when it becomes clear that Silvana has not been the only woman in Janusz' life, but for the most part these things are revealed gradually in flashback chapters that alternate with those in the present day. Again, I found myself accepting without being fully involved. No single event is unbelievable, but the total begins to seem both melodramatic and a little too easy, as though one thing follows another merely because the author wanted it to. I don't believe that all this was necessary to make an effective novel, though the author takes the accepting reader on a journey with several surprising twists that many will find quite satisfying. In short, a strong romance -- but there are tantalizing hints that it could have been much more. [3.5 stars]
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VINE VOICEon May 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While reading '22 Britannia Road' I had to constantly re-read the back cover copy to confirm that this was Amanda Hodgkinson's debut novel. But it is!! This is a powerful work of fiction, of war, memory, and the destructive power of the secrets we keep. Taking place in post-World War II Britain, this story of two Polish immigrants reunited with their young son is an incredibly well crafted work that tells a fascinating story. I can't say too much more without giving away the plot, but I think the best praise I can lavish upon it was that, while reading it, I kept thinking "I can't wait until I finish this so my wife and my parents can read it." It's one you will be wowed by, and then want to share! A truly amazing read!
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VINE VOICEon May 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Somebody compared this book to Suite Francaise. The only similarity I see is the picture on the cover. Irene Nemirovsky had spent her life writing and Suite Francaise, even unfinished, was a masterpiece. Unfortunately, she was deported to Auschwitz before it was completed. 22 Britannia Road is a first novel that you can tell is a first novel. It's not bad. It can make an entertaining read, and there are some good points. However, to me it just didn't ring true, especially the parts about the war in Poland and Eastern Europe. The author doesn't mention specific places, other than Warsaw, and there is no detail. These characters could be anywhere at any time. I wonder whether she ever went to Poland, because I've spent time there, traveling around the country. It's true a person can write about a country that they don't live in, and do it effectively, and even do it in a first novel, but it seemed to me she didn't do enough research. This was just scratching the surface. The character of Silvana was not at all filled out. First, that isn't a Polish name. There is no v in the Polish alphabet. Her name might have been Sylwia. This sounds Italian, or made up. She doesn't come across as a peasant, or as a Catholic, which she would have been. Her personality just seemed empty to me. Janusz's sister would have been Ewa, not Eve. Gregor is the German form of Gregory. Russian would be Grigori, Polish Grzegorz. She isn't paying attention to detail, assuming the readers won't know the difference. The switching back and forth in time and place and between characters made the story hard to follow. A chronological story may have worked better.

I think the author does have talent; one thing I liked was the reactions of the little boy, who had known only war and hiding and now found himself in a strange country and was expected to act "normal." This was one of the best parts of the book for me. It seemed very realistic, while the adults did not. She could have had a much better book if it wasn't rushed to print, and if she had thought things out more. There have been so many good books about people who survived the war in Poland and were "lucky" enough to get out and adjust to new countries. The idea is good, but she should have put more into it.
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on May 5, 2011
I have just finished reading Amanda Hodgkinson's masterpiece, 22 Britannia Road. What a compelling story of the war and relationships and doing whatever one can to survive! It is excellent, I recommend it to any serious reader.
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British author Amanda Hodgkinson's first novel, "22 Britania Road", is a strong debut. Set in England right after the end of WW2, she writes about a Polish couple, married before the war in Warsaw, who are reunited after the war, in England. Both have had very bad experiences; Silvana and their young son have lived the Polish countryside and forests for the six years of German and Russian occupation of the country fighting to stay alive, and Janusz has fled Poland after the German invasion and has roamed around Europe, finally arriving in England in the last years of the war. When they are reunited in London, they settle down together in Ipswich, where they learn to love each other again. And to make a family with their young son, Aurek.

But both have paid a price for their respective survivals during the war. There's a lot to confess to each other, and a lot to hide. Hodgkinson writes a quiet novel, bouncing back between current life in post-war England and war-time life. The secrets of love and loss that both have to hide make a rapprochement difficult.

"22 Britania Road" is not an easy novel to read. It's well-written and the description of post-war life in England is very good. The characters are vividly drawn. But the novel is full of painful truths. And that's probably close to the real stories of post-war Europe as people who once loved each other and were separated and survived the war, must find each other - and themselves - again.
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This book moves back and forth between the war and after the war. It goes along fairly well until the last few chapters. All of a sudden something happens that is really not explained and totally changes everything. (I don't want to explain what it is in order to keep from spoiling it for someone who is reading the book). It appeared to me that the author got tired of her subject and wanted to suddenly end the book. I was quite disappointed. I would not really recommend it except for the fact that it tells about some of the hardships during the war that make you think how lucky we are not to have been there.
This book was a gift I received, purchased from Amazon
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on July 22, 2011
This is another offering to the plethora of WWII novels. Amanda Hodgkinson's debut novel is the story of a Polish family that is separated at the beginning of the war, Janusz goes off to fight for his country, and Silvana, his wife, is left in Warsaw to somehow get herself and their small child, Aurek, to her in-laws. After the war they are reunited in England, and try to create a typical English suburban life, but they both have suffered too much and harbor too many secrets to make this a reality.

This is a well-written novel, fluid and descriptive, but it lacks the power to evoke any real emotion for any of her characters or their situations. Janusz actually has a pretty easy time of it during the war compared to Silvana, but he comes across as self-pitying. Silvana who survives living in the forest for most of the war and witnesses many horrors comes across as weak and indecisive. In the hands of a more skillful writer I think she could have created an unforgettable and haunting novel such as the Gendarme or The Pearl Diver, but instead I think it will be quickly forgotten shortly after reading.

I did like that she explores themes of redemption, the definition of family, and the power to overcome loss; themes that give the reader pause to think of their own ideas and beliefs.

I also liked that her characters were Polish and much of the book was set in Poland. This seems to be a country that is overlooked in WWII novels for some reason (Why is that?)

Overall I would give this 3.5 stars and would say it was worth the time to read, but certainly not a must read, nor a particularly memorable one.
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on July 26, 2011
As most of us were I was totally excited to read this book. I ordered the sample and was quickly hooked however after I bought it I regretted it. The idea behind the story was great but the characters were not developed enough for my taste. When I read I want rich, deep, and fascinating characters. I want the love story to play out before my eyes. Instead, we hardly know the main characters, we certainly don't feel love between them. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone else but if you are looking for a drawn out story forget this book. At one point one of the characters meets someone and 2 pages later they are in love etc. Really? That's it? I wasn't impressed but this is my opinion only.
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