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22 Britannia Road Paperback – 28 Apr 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Fig Tree (28 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905490704
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905490707
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

An affecting story, extremely well told (The Times )

The characters are so convincing and the writing's so unshowily accomplished that it soon becomes something gripping. An admirable debut (Daily Mail )

Harrowing, terrifying, heartbreaking, incredibly moving. Prepare to be left teary-eyed more than once (Stylist )

Riveting, luminous (New York Times Book Review )

A stark and beautiful book, alive to the compromises, deceptions and passions that traumatic situations can demand from the most circumspect of people (Marie Claire )

A most accomplished first novel. Powerful story-telling and entirely convincing in its evocation of post-war England. Very good (Penelope Lively )

[A] powerful debut (Sunday Times Culture Magazine )

Keep your Kleenex handy reading 22 Britannia Road (Grazia )

Convincing and touchingly portrayed (Independent on Sunday )

A riveting historical novel, set in post-WWII England, about a Polish couple reunited after enduring - and committing - crimes of love and war (Oprah.com )

A haunting debut that eschews sensationalism and unfurls with quiet delicacy (Easy Living )

From the Author

Author Q&A with Amanda Hodgkinson

Amanda Hodgkinson

Q: What drew you to this particular story of Polish World War II survivors living in England?

A: As a child, I was always fascinated when the adults around me talked about World War II. These were older family members who had lived through it and I would try to stay quiet so I could listen without being discovered. Their voices changed to lower registers, there were weighted silences in the conversations, sad looks, secretive whispering and then somebody would notice me and send me out to play, their voice swinging up a register to convey a gaiety they probably didn’t feel. I would go to bed at night, sick at heart thinking about these stories, and wonder how the world ever managed to get back to the normal after that war.

Looking back, I think I never stopped wondering. Years later, I was standing in my kitchen and heard a Russian woman on the radio, describing her experiences of being a child during the war. “We were so hungry,” she said, “we ate the bark of the silver birch trees.” An image came to me, so clear and strong, it was more like a memory than an act of my imagination. I wrote down what I saw; a young woman in a silver birch forest. I had begun to write my novel.

Q: From Silvana’s exile in the forest to the petrol rations in post-war Ipswich, you paint a vivid picture of the novel’s historical settings and events. What sort of research did you do to get the details right?

A: I balanced my own imaginative input with research. I read social history books on the war and the postwar period, including a lot of oral histories on Polish immigrant experiences. I also read wonderful Polish poets like Zbigniew Herbert and Tadeusz Rózewicz, among others. I studied Polish fairytales and classic Polish literature from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I discovered tango music had been very popular in Poland during the thirties, so I listened to some fabulous clips on YouTube and imagined myself there, in the 1930s, dancing at a club in Warsaw, just like Hanka, one of the characters in the book tells Silvana about. I immersed myself in books, music and literature and then I put aside all research and let my imagination go to work. Whenever I was unsure about a scene, I turned to my own thoughts and feelings, relying on my ability to imagine a moment and on my empathy for the characters, rather than history books, and I think this approach helped me really understand my characters and the time.

Q: What does the title, the address of the home Janusz chooses for his reunited family, represent to you symbolically? Why that particular address?

A: I wanted a very ordinary address. A typical English home. You can find a Britannia Road in most English towns and there is no mistaking the pronounced sense of place in this address. Janusz wants what the address offers. A new life and a new country. Ironically, this address, with its connotations of national identity and pride, also serves to highlight the sense of displacement Janusz, Silvana and Aurek, as an immigrant family, must have felt in a small town in Britain. Another reason I used an address was to show how important home was to the characters. For me, the novel is about finding a home, physically, psychologically and metaphorically. Home is a small word that holds within itself complex meanings. Change one letter and you have the word hope. And Janusz, Silvana and Aurek hope to make a home together.

Q: A powerful theme in this book is the pain of survival—even Janusz, who had a relatively easy escape from Poland, suffers from having outlived Hélène and other loved ones. What personal discoveries did you make about this theme while writing the book?

A: Writing the book and researching it made me very aware of how people are still suffering under wars. The mass movement of displaced people around the world continues and the number of children who are orphaned and families disrupted and broken by war does not diminish.

Q: You do an exceptional job capturing the psyche of young Aurek, who has clearly been traumatized by his experiences. Did you draw from case studies of children with similar experiences, or did you find your way to this character instinctually?

A: I wrote Aurek very instinctively. I felt I knew the boy from the moment I first wrote a small, tentative description of him, crouching in the back garden at 22 Britannia Road. I read Through The Eyes of the Innocents: Children Witness World War II by Emmy E Werner, which conveys the heartbreaking experiences of children, and that fed my own understanding of what Aurek might have been through but really, when I was writing Aurek, I found I could connect with him best on an emotional level. So I wrote what he felt. I tried to go beyond language with him and bring out his primitive sense of survival, his desire to feel loved and his need to love others.


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By J. Scott-mandeville VINE VOICE on 2 May 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Artfully told in present and past tenses, this Second World War story of the survival of a Polish family despite all odds is full of violence and sadness, grief and loss, despair and desolation, yet throughout there is hope. Silvana and Janusz both have secrets. Both young people are seared with the blood of what happened to ordinary Poles caught up in the maelstrom of German and Russian invasion. Both are traumatised by the way in which good people resort to evil when survival depends on it.

In the midst of the turmoil there is their young son, Aurek, a child who comes through impossible deprivation and sorrow, witness to horrible destruction and the worst human beings can inflict on each other, yet somehow he remains a human child with a child's natural instincts. The terrible secret at the heart of Silvana's and Aurek's story is anticipated by the clever narrative, yet is no less disturbing when revealed.

The title of the book is the ordinary address in Ipswich to which these ordinary people - made extraordinary by their experiences - come to live. The everyday humdrum details - dress, food, house and garden, shops and work, behaviour patterns - vividly illustrate the mundane lives at the end of the war. Descriptions of rationing and food shortages, the awful winter of 1947, the adaptation of Polish foreignness to the narrow ways of English neighbours, are in stark contrast to the violent unreality of war-torn Poland. The authentic authorial voice takes the reader right into the heart of post-war Britain, and then dramatically flashbacks to the grim and often gruesome events affecting Silvana and Janusz from the German invasion of Warsaw to the dislocation at the end of the war.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. L. Seago on 29 Feb 2012
Format: Paperback
I read this for a bookclub and enjoyed it. My worry when I saw the back was that it would be bleak and depressing and full of horrific details of wars, but it isn't. It does cover some difficult themes and ideas, but in a way that doesn't revel in how awful it is, but focusses on how people get through things.

I have to say that both Silvana's and Janusk's secrets are obvious from very early on, but in many ways this doesn't matter as it is more about the way they are learning to relate to each other while coping with their pasts.

As some of the other reviewers have said, I didn't really 'get' the Silvana character - she's not 2 dimensional, but she does lack warmth, possibly due to her upbringing, which makes her difficult to like and a bit cold at times. I also didn't like the love triangle element. But these are minor points.

This is a very enjoyable read. I'd particularly recommend it for someone who wants to read about real issues without feeling like they've been emotionally beaten by the end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marion Marchetto on 9 Dec 2011
Format: Hardcover
I chose to read this book because of my Polish heritage and the many stories I heard when I was growing up of the hardships that the Poles faced during WWII. So, when this book came along it was easy for me to want to read it.

At the beginning of WWII, a young Polish family is separated: husband Janusz goes to fight for his country leaving wife Silvana and their infant son Aurek at home in Warsaw. The next time the three are reunited it is seven years later in England, the war has ended and all have endured hardships and horrors they would rather forget. Janusz has crossed Europe and joined the RAF. Along the way he has fallen in love with a French girl. While his initial attempts to resist her become weaker, he rationalizes that his family are probably dead anyway, he ultimately gives in and falls in love with Helene. They exchange letters during the war and Janusz keeps these letters even after his reunion with his wife and son.

Silvana, I believe, has the worst of the situation. Left on her own to keep her child safe, she is in her apartment when the Germans invade Warsaw. In an attempt to flee she makes it as far as the first floor of her apartment building. She ducks into a vacated apartment and hides her son as a German officer rapes her, telling her that he would like to have her as a mistress and that he can provide for her. But she will have to lose the child. When he leaves, Silvana helps herself to extra clothing and blankets from the apartment and boards a bus with her baby. Everything goes downhill from there. She spends the remainder of the war years a step or two ahead of the German troops, essentially living and raising her son in the forest.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By M. Brown on 28 April 2011
Format: Paperback
Very occasionally you read a novel that completely captivates: 22 Britannia Road is such a one.

The book caught my eye and I read the epigraph "The dead have need of fairytales too" a quote from Zbigniew Herbert - intrigued, I bought it and spent the following three days totally immersed in the story of Silvana, Aurek and Janusz. At last, literary fiction that enthralls, beguiles and sweeps the reader along, page after page.

Amanda Hodgkinson writes beautiful prose - lyrical, almost poetic in places, laying bare the bones of human frailty and emotion honestly and without sentimentality. One cannot help but be drawn into the unfolding drama - the sense of the past exerting its influence in the present pervades the narrative and is accomplished by the author's masterful structuring of the novel.

A wonderful debut novel. I look forward to reading more from this talented author.
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