I was given a copy of this book at a Penguin Blogger Event and I’m so glad! If the cover hadn’t grab my attention (which it did!), the author read a sample from the beginning of the book and I was hooked!
Anyway, Amanda Hodgkinson’s novel is a fantastic read which shows a different perspective of WW2 and highlights the strength of love in the face of adversity. The book starts as Silvana and her son Aurek are waiting to board the ship that will take them to Britain, where Silvana’s husband Janusz now lives. The family have been separated for six years and in that time, all of them have endured and survived indescribable inhumanity while the world was at war.
As Silvana and Aurek try to settle into a normal life, Janusz is desperately trying to fit into the English way of life (inviting people for numerous cups of tea and keeping a tidy garden etc.). Although they all knew it would be hard to adjust after such a long time apart, because there is so little talk of what they actually experienced in the war…there is so little understanding between them! It becomes clear towards the end of the novel that although they don’t want to recollect the horrors that they have experienced, some things need to be said. Although Silvana lived a relatively normal life in Warsaw before the war began, Aurek was just a baby when Janusz had to go to war and various events meant that Silvana and Aurek spent most of the war hiding in the forest and Janusz seems embarrassed of his unruly/primitive behavior throughout the first half of the book and yet desperate for Aurek to reciprocate his love. Hodgkinson’s writing is so beautifully and honestly realistic that I went through a real mixture of emotions…I smiled when Janusz offered people tea for the sake of it, I felt awkward when Aurek was ‘misbehaving’ in public and I felt so desperately sad and sympathetic for Silvana when her child finally begins to bond with ‘the enemy’ (as Aurek describes him), Janusz because although you can tell that she wants Aurek to have a relationship with his father, it was just the two of them for such a long time and their relationship was so intense because of the situation that it must have been very difficult to see him running to his father before coming to her.
But it isn’t just the struggle of the war years that is apparent throughout the book, it is the struggles of every day life that were so poignant and so wonderfully described. I found myself gushing as Aurek’s descriptions of Janusz as ‘the enemy’ slowly faded and he let him into his life – the moment where he thinks (something along the lines of…)
‘If the enemy tries to hug me, I will let him’
…really warmed my heart!
This is a fabulously well-written book, which shows you the war from another point of view, without preaching or repeating previously explored perspectives of life in wartime. Wonderful descriptions, honest characters and a touching narrative!