I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Devastation Roan, but I was both pleasantly surprised and incredibly emotionally affected by this novel. While so many WWII novels look at the war itself, Hewitt explores the aftermath of liberation and the millions of displaced persons seeking to either piece their lives back together or start anew. This book is not for the faint hearted, but absolutely worth the read.
Title: Devastation Road
Author: Jason Hewitt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Original Publication Date: July 30, 2017
Publication Date: July 03, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Themes: WWII, Internment Camps, Survival
Features: Suggested reading
My Rating: 4/ 5
In the last months of World War II, a man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and with only flashes of memory coming back to him, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, setting out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past, and himself.
His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague recollection of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England, he becomes caught up in the flood of rootless people pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany.
When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself. How can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?
What can I say about Devastation Road, other than that it’s the type of book that will take your breath away and keep you constantly searching for answers? I spent much of my time with this book in saddened disbelief, not because of the content itself, but because I knew all to well that events such as the ones depicted actually took place. I was enthralled with Owen, Janek, and Irena and was constantly striving to examine the little clues left about each in order to understand them better. Given the popularity of WWII fiction there can be certain homogeneity in the genre, and I must admit that in contrast Devastation Road is a breath of fresh air as well as a disturbing look into the realities of recovering from war.
I enjoyed that despite the fact that different sections of the book were dedicated to certain characters, that Owen’s viewpoint was maintained throughout the text. As a result the revelations about Janek and Irena had so much more impact than if I had been afforded a glimpse into their psyche as well. Further, I enjoyed the repetition of details and memories as Owen recovers from his amnesia, and absolutely loved how all of the elements came together to tell a single, coherent story within a story at the end.
Of all the characters, I found Irena to be the most interesting and complex. Although Owen was challenging to follow with his memory loss, Irena’s intentional deception really drew me into her storyline and created an emotional investment in her character that I absolutely wasn’t expecting. As a result, her final decision cut me to bone. I felt so betrayed afterwards that I had such a hard time reading about her afterwards and I really had to step back and think about the choices that she had to make in order to survive and remind myself to be more compassionate of her circumstances.
I think the choice to given Owen amnesia rather than having readers experience the horrors of internment was an incredibly tactful one. As there is so much information available about concentration camps and work camps, I doubt that this book would finds it’s way into the hands of anyone who has never before heard of their conditions. And with this background knowledge in mind, the reader is left to imagine the horrors that Owen might have witnessed and experienced, and the imagination can be an incredibly powerful thing! Hewitt broaches some incredibly disturbing moments and concepts without being graphic or employing gratuitous violence, a feat which is nearly impossible when dealing with the reshuffling of nations borders, rape, and genocide.
The ending was ultimately beautiful, as it encapsulated both the sorrow and happiness that accompanied so many homecomings. I enjoyed that while ends were tied up, that there were still many questions left unanswered, that loss still dominated, and that so many of the characters had realistic and believable flaws. I loved that no one was perfect, that there wasn’t really a hero, and that no one is actually who or what they present themselves to be.
Beautiful and bittersweet, Devastation Road is an absolute must read for lovers of WWII fiction. It presents unique views from a period often overlooked by authors and encourages consideration from some of the unconventional characters and choices that became more prevalent in the years following the war. Hewitt’s style is captivating and clear, and is sure to take you on a deeply emotional journey of discovery and loss.
Many thanks to Jason Hewitt and Little, Brown and Company for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.