This was such a moving story. I am always fascinated by the stories of European families during and after WWII, but this one was different. It is a deep story of love and deception, but also of heartbreak, the horrors of war, and survival. Silvana and Janusz are a young polish couple, very much in love, with a newborn baby boy, Aurek when the war breaks out and separates this family. Separation is really not a strong enough word – it is more like a rending.
Janusz goes off to join the Polish army, somehow not getting there but instead wandering through Europe, a step ahead of the enemy before he finally hooks up with the British army. Silvana meanwhile has been exiled to the forest, where she and Aurek live on and off – mostly on – for the next six years, almost feral-like. They are all finally reunited in Ipswich in England, where Janusz has secured an English cottage, planting an English garden – all in an effort to become a perfect little English family. But, coming off the horrors of war for all three of them and the facades erected by Silvana and Janusz to hide certain of the casualties of war, this proves impossible and the family becomes a time bomb – just waiting for an explosion.
This is a beautifully written book, flipping back and forth from wartime to present day. One of my very favorite quotes from this book comes from when Silvana and Aurek arrive on the boat which will take them back to Janusz, and the British soldier asks Silvana what her position is:
“She looked at the documents on his desk and saw pages of women’s names. All were listed as housewives or housekeepers . . . ‘Profession?’ ‘Survivor,’ she whispered, the first words that came to her.”
What a wonderful story!
Viking Penguin provided a review copy of this book for this post. All opinions are my own.
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