Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself up and starts to walk.
His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in it’s last throes, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and a troubled young woman, Irena, and together they form a fragile alliance on their way across battle-worn Germany. Owen attempts to gather up the shattered pieces of his life, but nothing is as he remembers, not even himself – how can he return home when he hardly recalls what home is?
‘”The war might as well still be raging for all the good the peace is doing us”’
A moving story about the catastrophic impact of war told through three different perspectives, Devastation Road is poignant, wonderfully written and a stark reminder that peace does not necessarily bring with it an end to suffering.
When Owen wakes in a field in Germany in 1945 with no memory of where or who he is, he has to make his way across the country in order to get home. Along the way, he meets Janek and Irena and this unlikely group of disparate people, each with their own unique and moving experience of the war, forge together to make their way home and rebuild their lives.
Devastation Road has an air of mystery about it as we are drip fed information about Owen when parts of his memory slowly come back to him. Hewitt’s portrayal of Owen’s memory loss is incredibly effective, giving the reader the experience of how it would really feel to lose this function, the confusion it causes and its impact which goes way beyond anything I could have imagined. The vague snippets of memories that come back to him that he can’t fully make sense of and then forgetting them again the next day, make piecing his life back together incredibly difficult.
Each of the three characters has their own story to tell and their own methods of survival. While not always liking the decisions they have made and the action they have taken, you cannot help but feel for them and understand their behaviour in this most extreme of times when survival becomes everything. They are all victims of the war and in many senses peace time will be just as dangerous for them.
The real beauty of this book, for me, is its exploration of the impact of war. Although historical fiction, Devastation Road has an authenticity about it showing that Hewitt has clearly researched his subject. His descriptions give a real sense of place and surrounding, with the reader being transported to Germany during this tumultuous time. Peace time has arrived and yet lives are still in turmoil and danger is not over. While our views and ideas of the end of the Second World War are often one of jubilation and celebration, this was not the reality for the majority of people. Lives and homes devastated, displacement and the uncertainty about the safety of loved ones are all explored and portrayed gently and sensitively. Hewitt accurately describes how human lives become worthless during war time making this an emotional read.
Heart-breaking, gripping and wonderfully written, Devastation Road is a gorgeous novel and a fantastic piece of historical fiction. A tale of unlikely friendships, loss and the lengths people go to in order to stay alive that will move you deeply. Highly recommended.
A huge thank you to Jason Hewitt and Scribner for my copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Published on 14 July 2016 by Scribner.