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Introduction

22 Britannia Road
by Amanda Hodgkinson

Title

Author

Amanda Hodgkinson

Amanda Hodgkinson

Author Interview

About the Book

World War II has just ended and Silvana Novak and her eight-year-old son Aurek arrive in Ipswich, England, where they are reunited with Silvana's husband, Janusz, after six years of estrangement. Silvana and Aurek have spent that time hiding from both the Germans and the Russians in the forests of Poland. Janusz, meanwhile, escaped to France before settling in England.

Relieved and deeply grateful to have his family back, Janusz has set up a brand-new life for them in a small house in a town in East Anglia. He's found work in an engineering firm and he's hoping they can start, despite what they have lived through. Aurek, who's grown up eating raw bird's eggs and tree bark, will have to learn how to tie his shoes and interact with children his age. Silvana will have to readjust to living in a real house, with a real bed and bathtub. Fiercely protective of her son, she will have to learn how to trust other people again, including her husband. Slowly but surely, they embark on this process together: Silvana finds work at an area factory; Janusz teaches them English; Aurek begins school and makes a new friend. They start to socialize with their neighbors who seem to accept them as one of their own. And Janusz builds a beautiful English garden with a treehouse for Aurek.

Yet even as their shared dream of postwar life takes shape, the past continues to haunt them. Both Silvana and Janusz are harboring painful secrets about what really happened during their separate wars. And these secrets are threatening to tear their fragile new bond apart.

In Amanda Hodgkinson's commanding debut novel, these empathetically drawn, emotionally damaged characters must learn how to recreate a family under the most difficult circumstances, when the horrors of war have stripped them of everything but their most primal instincts. By turns poetic and grippingly suspenseful, 22 Brittannia Road is a heart-wrenching story of how love and forgiveness can pave the way to new life.

About the Author

Amanda Hodgkinson was born in Burnham-on-Sea, England, and earned an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. She now lives with her husband and two daughters in a farmhouse in the southwest of France.

Discussion Questions

  1. On the ship to England, Silvana is asked if she's a housekeeper or housewife. Why does this question jar her?
  2. Aurek thinks of Janusz as "the enemy." How do his feelings change over the course of the book, and why?
  3. Hodgkinson toggles back and forth from the past to the present in this novel. How does telling the story in this particular way affect the experience for the reader? Could she have told it in any other way?
  4. Janusz longs for an English life. What are some of the things he does to try to adapt and assimilate to his new homeland?
  5. The relationship between Silvana and Janusz and their English neighbors Doris and Gilbert is complicated. Do you believe they are genuinely friends?
  6. Silvana is obsessed with discarded clothes and photographs of children. What do these objects represent for her, and how do they comfort or help her?
  7. What is it that draws Silvana to Tony? How does her relationship with Tony differ from her relationship with Janusz?
  8. When he learns the truth about Silvana, Janusz tears up his English garden and begins planting trees. What does this act accomplish for him?
  9. Almost everyone in this novel has a secret—is there any instance in which keeping the secret might have been better in the end? Are secrets always destructive in relationships?
  10. In the final third of the book, there's a shocking revelation about Silvana's past. How did you react to this development? How did it make you feel about her as a character?

Reviews

/* Starred Review */ A Polish family shattered by World War II struggles to reunite in peace-time, in a strikingly mature British debut.What comes after surviving? asks Hodgkinson in her ambitious, emotionally incisive first novel threaded with primitive human instincts for safety and companionship. Her central characters Silvana and Janusz Nowak meet and fall in love in 1937, marrying and moving to Warsaw when Silvana falls pregnant. As war approaches, Janusz joins up, expecting Silvana and their son Aurek to move in with his parents, but these plans are disrupted and Silvana ends up foraging in the forest alongside other survivors while Janusz embarks on a trek through Hungary and France to England. Reunited as British immigrants in a Suffolk town in 1946, the adults are scarred by their long separation, the events they witnessed and their secrets. Janusz had a French lover, Hélène, while Silvana's savage and deprived existence has left Aurek half feral. In their new suburban existence the three try to restore normal relationships but simple yearning isn't enough and eventually the secrets drive them apart, Silvana into the open arms of Tony, the father of Aurek's school friend. Janusz now enters a period of destructive grief and Silvana has lessons to learn about Tony; it takes a gesture from Aurek to bring about a conclusion of surprising grace.Hodgkinson enters boldly into well-trodden, sensitive territory and distinguishes herself with freshness and empathy.(Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2011)