The War Within
I chose to read this book because of my Polish heritage and the many stories I heard when I was growing up of the hardships that the Poles faced during WWII. So, when this book came along it was easy for me to want to read it.
At the beginning of WWII, a young Polish family is separated: husband Janusz goes to fight for his country leaving wife Silvana and their infant son Aurek at home in Warsaw. The next time the three are reunited it is seven years later in England, the war has ended and all have endured hardships and horrors they would rather forget. Janusz has crossed Europe and joined the RAF. Along the way he has fallen in love with a French girl. While his initial attempts to resist her become weaker, he rationalizes that his family are probably dead anyway, he ultimately gives in and falls in love with Helene. They exchange letters during the war and Janusz keeps these letters even after his reunion with his wife and son.
Silvana, I believe, has the worst of the situation. Left on her own to keep her child safe, she is in her apartment when the Germans invade Warsaw.
In an attempt to flee she makes it as far as the first floor of her apartment
building. She ducks into a vacated apartment and hides her son as a German
officer rapes her, telling her that he would like to have her as a mistress and
that he can provide for her. But she will have to lose the child. When he
leaves, Silvana helps herself to extra clothing and blankets from the apartment and boards a bus with her baby. Everything goes downhill from there. She spends the remainder of the war years a step or two ahead of the German troops, essentially living and raising her son in the forest.
Janusz manages to find his way to a small English town and with Allied assistance tracks down his little family and brings them to England. Here is where the story gets interesting. Both Janusz and Silvana try to put the horrors of war behind them. They simply don’t want to talk about those years. They try to become assimilated into the English way of life. Aurek, the seven year old boy, is so wild that he clings to Silvana, calling Janusz ‘enemy’.
There is so much inner turmoil, with both husband and wife thinking that they have failed their spouse as well as the boy, that neither one seems to understand that the other is hurting inside. It takes another emotional upheaval, this time shared by both Janusz and Silvana, before each is willing to open their hearts and learn what the other has experienced.
The author has created extremely complex characters that carry the book forward on their own with little assistance needed from secondary characters. The story is strong, the characters are strong. We experience the horrors of war secondhand yet they seem as real as when they happened.
Although set during and after the Second World War, the inner wars that are fought by those who experience war are common to all who have fought or lived in countries torn asunder by wars regardless of the year or
I highly recommend this book. I am giving it five Ms for its readability and strong characters. I look forward to Ms. Hodgkison’s next novel.