From the Blitz Party to Britannia Road: a review…

2 Feb

Last weekend I had the pleasure of putting my glad rags on and popping down to a Blitz Party, London’s spectacular WW2 shindig. Held in Shoreditch’s Village Underground, as soon as you enter (or actually, as soon as you encounter the victory-rolled cigarette-smoking beauties waiting outside) you’re instantly transported back to 1940’s Britain. A live band plays Glenn Miller classics (very authentic, bar the one Paolo Nutini track that somehow snuck in?!), there’s plenty of Gin Fizz and lashings of Spitfire Ale, enough hairspray to set a world on fire and possibly the most impressive array of vintage regalia I have ever set eyes on (Brick Lane must have got completely cleaned out).

A photo of me and the boyfriend in my brother’s extremely 1940s-esque kitchen.. all photos after this point are too gin-addled for public enjoyment…

Anyway, the Vera Lynn on repeat made me think of a great wartime book I recently read, a debut that came out last year called 22 Britannia Road. It went on to be longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize, but I don’t think it got any further. Which is a shame if you ask me, because it’s a story full of all the good stuff – love, betrayal, death, survival – and I really loved it. If you like child narratives I’d especially recommend it.

So without further ado, let’s get nostalgic. Here’s my review that was published last year:

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

22 britannia road, amanda hodgkinson, reviews, books, book reviews, critics, wartime, novels 1940s, britain, debut

Every now and then a story comes along that is so powerful and so beautifully written that you completely lose yourself in it. 22 Britannia Road, an impressive debut about a young Polish family struggling to re-build their lives in post-war England, is one of those stories.

When asked her profession, Silvana answers ‘Survivor’. She and her eight-year-old son Aurek have been living in the forests of occupied Poland, hiding in trees and killing wild animals to stay alive. When the war ends, her husband Janusz locates them, and they move to 22 Britannia Road, Ipswich, to start a new life together.

But after six years apart, Janusz and Silvana have experienced things they can’t forget, and both are carrying dark secrets. Retrospective chapters are woven into the narrative, unravelling the harrowing events that changed the couple irrevocably. Gradually we realise that the happy ending they deserve is barricaded behind torturous memories of the past, and there’s no easy way out.

The chapters from Aurek’s point of view are particularly heartbreaking. Slightly reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room, the little boy struggles to make sense of his new surroundings and longs for his forest past. The gradual transition in his relationship with his father, who he initially dubs ‘the enemy’, is delicately handled and extremely moving.

There are lots of novels based on wartime secrets, and comparisons could be drawn with Sophie’s Choice – prepare to get teary eyed more than once. But this story feels unique thanks to the characters’ unusual experiences of the war and Hodgkinson’s poetic turns of phrase used to expertly capture their complex emotions.

A story about the strength of human spirit and the power of love, you’ll be rooting for the Nowak family from page one.

Which wartime novels would you recommend?


3 Responses to “From the Blitz Party to Britannia Road: a review…”

  1. savidgereads February 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    I struggle with wartime books so I would love, love, love some recommendations – what would you suggest? The last two good ones (didn’t blow me away but where good) were ‘Warhorse’ and ‘The Report’ you might like the latter, its an unusual take. My favourite, which is set in wartime but doesnt feature the war exactly, is ‘Small Island’ – stunning.


  1. The Orange Prize longlist: my top 5 contenders « - March 7, 2012

    […] Hodgkinson’s post-war page-turner follows a Polish couple and their young son as they adjust to a new life in England. 8-year-old Aurek steals the show in this heartbreaking tale of wartime secrets and survival. Review here. […]

  2. Interview: Amanda Hodgkinson reveals the inspiration behind top debut 22 Britannia Road « - April 30, 2012

    […] Night, an author whose debut novel I LOVED and have shouted about numerous times (try here and here for starters), I’m aware of just how lucky I am to actually meet the person who spent months […]

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