Novels crafted on the wartime theme are always heartbreaking. I’ve read plenty of them, but somehow, Britannia Crossroad 22 has that spark wich makes it stand above all. It’s different, so personal, as if it was built with your fears, thoughts and feelings. It’s not that much about the Second World War, but more about the scars left on those who lived it.When we talk about dark times in history we, usually ask ourselves how hard is it living through something like this, how could one survive? But we usually forget to ask ourselves " what about after"?
Can you really move on, or go back to the life you had before? Why do we pay so much attention to the battles, to the heroes and villains, but not to the common people's stories. Why not focus on those lifes shaped by war? Perhaps because these ones usually can’t be told. People deny, ignore what they can’t face to remember. Talking about memories is like living the trauma again. You want to burry those ones, just like you do with the dead people. Physically, you survived, but what about your soul? When you need to survive you forget everything else. And we notice this in the very first pages. When asked what is she “housewife or housekeeper”, Silvana answers with “surviver”.
People say this story is about the primal bound between mother and child. I don’t think that books have a strict meaning, they rather reflect, like a mirror, what’s already inside of us. Not beeing a mother myself, I can't see these things. For me it’s more about the distance and time that builds walls between two people. About the traumas they're forced to face on their on, changing them so much that they become strangers .
No matter how great is the second chance offered by the present, they can’t really enjoy it, because each one of them is somehow haunted by the past. Witnesses of a troubled world, their silence hides secrets that makes them feel awkward together, like three strangers trying to replay the family game. A role they never actually knew. But how could they, when just a few months after Aurek was borned, the war was knocking at their door, asking for Janusz’s arm. Their reunion should be a great thing, it’s what they hoped for, but the wife cries every night, the husband dreams about another woman, and the poor kid hates his dad.
Janusz is far from the hero type. But he is to be appreciated for his positive thinking and for being such a hardworking man. On the other hand, he’s rather a weak men, in war he was a coward, hiding behind a woman’s skirt, as if the war gives him the right to forget about morals. He’s too stuck in his own dreams to see how his wife is slipping away through his fingers. How hard were his days of war, comparing to Silvana's struggle? With a manlike courage, Silvana is rather the hero of this story. But about her bond with the kid, I can say it is indeed very strong, but not sure if worthy of admiration. It’s almost a sick one.
The most impressive of all, is the portrait of Aurek. While others have to readjust to the world, for him things are different. Growing up in a nearly primitive and especially hostile environment, the boy does not know what civilization means. His savagery is not to be blamed because that’s all that he ever knew. But despite his strange behaviour, Silvana’s son seems smart and endowed with the potential to adapt, even if, inside, he will always be more like a man of the forest. The most heartbreaking secret is the one Silvana hides about him. She may never tell him to truth, but somehow, seeing his hostility, I’m sure deep down in his soul he always knew it.
I notice many reviewers talk about the narrative technique that the author, Amanda Hodgkinson, uses to create this novel, about how she’s mixing the three perpective and the oscillation between the present (the time spent on Britannia Road 22) and the past (during the war). I’ve seen this trick many times but it always ends up being a catastrophy, because it creates confusion and disruption. But not here. Amanda is doing such a great job with how she handles these narrative tools. That’s how she amplifies the dramatic effects of the story and curdling narration in this way makes sense. The way she's gathering fragments of her character’s past , in order to shape them better and give them a meaning, is a reflexion of how the characters need to recall their life, bringing everything to the surface to get a sense of completion before moving on.
The pain does not come from the drama of these people shaped by war, but from the things lightened inside you by their story. Britannia Road 22 is not just an address, a fictional house. It’s the mask of perfection , behind her closed doors we hide so many shameful secrets. A beautiful house, survivor of destruction, a stained glass door and a blue bird, but if you look closely, you’ll see a crack, just like in the story of the polish couple. A single crack, but it’s enough to make it so fragile, because want it or not, it’s enough for all of your secrets to sneak through and get to the surface. Each of us carries within himself a small war and his past like a ticking clock, a bomb ready to explode any second now, threatening to destroy your life hardly rebuilt on second chances. What once was buried, must now emerge to the surface. This is the only salvation, because something hidden can’t be washed away.
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