Sunday, July 10, 2011

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

I've been getting a lot of my reads lately from NPR and this is no different. NPR has consistently recommended quality books and continues to do so in this debut novel by Amanda Hodgkinson.

World War II survivors - a husband, wife and child - are attempting to re-create their lives together after surviving the war.  He was in the Polish Army and, eventually, the British RAF and spent time in France after getting injured.  His wife and child were refugees in Poland during the German occupation and spent most of the time in a refugee camp hidden deep in the woods of rural Poland. They are rescued by American liberators as the end of the war.  Superficially, the family has all the ingredients for a successful post-rescue life: a home in Britain, jobs, food, clothing and all the amenities. They even have a connection to the black market that will get them the things that they need for free and they have a car (which was almost unheard of for most middle class British at this time). But all three are changed, and have been changed by the war - they are not the same people that they had married and each have secrets that could, potentially, devastate the tenuous family life that they have set up in the house at 22 Britannia Road.

I think that this quote accurately summarizes a part of what made this book so powerful for me:
The boy was everything to her. Small and unruly, he had a nervy way about him like an animal caught in the open.
This book, in large part, was about parenthood and what it means to be a parent.  Hodgkinson attempts to answer questions about whether mothers and fathers have different priorities and handle things differently.  She also tries to define what makes a parent. Some of the scenes between mother and son, and between each person in the family unit were absolutely gut-wrenching and poignant at the same time. I felt that Hodgkinson also did a masterful job in describing and portraying the weight that all parents, and specifically mothers, must carry. It was also beautifully written.

The book was also a masterful portrayal of war and the impact that it has on the families that have lived through it. Granted, this tale was specific to people that have served in it and also been refugees, which may not necessarily always apply to many Americans' experience in dealing with war.  However, it is quite clear from the novel what the tragic impact of war was on this particular family.

A must read, although I am not sure that you want to actually purchase the book for your library.

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