This work of fiction is an astonishing first novel that chronicles a family’s struggle to create a home in the aftermath of World War II. It’s a good read and according to some reviewers is earning comparisons to Sophie’s Choice and Sarah’s Key. I don’t put it in the league with those two outstanding novels, but it tells a compelling story of a Polish husband, wife and small son who’re separated for six years during the war.
The mother and son are rescued from a refugee camp by the father and brought to a small house and garden in Ipswich, England. Both adults bring secrets and emotional scars to the reunion. They have had many experiences — some of them heart wrenching — and done whatever was necessary to survive. Starting over is far from easy, plus they are often baffled by English customs and language.
The husband joins the fighting and is separated from the family early in the conflict. During the occupation of Poland, the mother and son were always on the run and spent time living in forests. In England, Janusz, the husband/father, must teach mother and son not to take baths in their clothes, not to steal vegetables from the allotments by the river, and the son, Aurek, must be forced to attend school.
The author moves between the points of view of Janusz and his wife, Silvana, and occasionally Aurek and links each to flashbacks from the war.
Sometimes this method is cumbersome and robs the book of momentum. Yet, the story is riveting and you can tell it’s moving toward something major, a secret too painful to recall. Hodgkinson reminds us that an exploration of the past, no matter how horrific, lodges deep in our innermost selves. There is a maternal bond between mother and son that is gripping and heart scorching. The fight for survival intensified this bond.
There are twists and turns that I won’t give away. It’s a touching, penetrating story of how a family survives, rebuilds and forgives to move forward.