This book is so much more than the wartime nostalgia that the cover hints at.
After the wars ends, husband and father Janusz is reunited with his Polish housewife Silvana and son, Aurek. He has set them up in his pride and joy: a proper English house complete with garden at the back. Yet all is not happily-ever-after for this married couple who have not seen each other for six years; the ghosts of their wartime pasts haunt each of them--the story shifts back and forth between husband and wife, narrating fragments of their experiences.
Silvana and her son spent the war hiding in the forests of Poland, and Janusz escaped to France, and eventually England, finding unexpected love along the way. Aurek, the boy, is an almost wild creature since all he has known is the forest, and he is suspicious of his father who seems to be "the enemy."
Any expected nostalgia is grated away from this story with the reality of postwar hardships: the continued rationing; the frustrating black market; the small-town, insular hostilities that permeate; the resentment of "uppity" foreigners; and women who snap with remarks like, "I know your kind. You won't get away with it. This is a respectable street."
At one point, Silvana says, "The past--maybe we make too much of it. What we need is what's right here." But her husband knows that the past can't be dismissed so easily.
This is a beautifully written story not just about war and what it does to people emotionally, but also of forgiveness, secrets, memories, and choices. For Janusz, Silvana and Aurek, the choices become forks in the road that they take and sometimes regret, but their story shows how the past is what makes us who we are.
This is the author's first novel, and with such a powerful literary voice, one can only hope to see more.
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder