Monday, 26 June 2017

Book Review: DEVASTATION ROAD by Jason Hewitt

Author: Jason Hewitt
Little, Brown and Company
June 2017
Expected publication: 3 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description (Goodreads):

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets 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 memory of joining is in its dying days, 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 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?

My musings:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a sucker for WWII stories. But as lovers of the genre are aware, these books are a dime a dozen, and finding a true jewel among the bling is a bit like striking gold in the desert. For me, Devastation Road was such a book. It is set in the spring of 1945, when there were around 7 million displaced people roaming around Germany in search of missing loved ones or trying to get back home – or what remained of it. Owen, who has lost the memory of the last four years of his life, joins the crowds of battle-scarred refugees and homeless people making their way across the war-torn country. He vaguely remembers being an RAF pilot, who had been imprisoned in a camp of sorts, but has no idea where he is and how he got here. Somewhere, in the deep dark recesses of his mind, there is the memory of a brother, Max, and that of a girl, but the images are hazy and produce a flood of emotion he cannot analyse. He knows that he has to get to a place called Sagan, but his mind won’t tell him why, or what he is looking for.

Hewitt’s writing is poetic, atmospheric and visual. With his observations through the eyes of a dazed and confused man who has suffered a severe head injury, he manages to catch not only the despair of a whole nation ravaged by war, but also that of its many victims. Through Owen’s unlikely companions, Janek, Irena and Little Man, we hear of the many different facets of suffering, with one underlying theme running through the entire story – the desperate longing to find loved ones, to get home. Or, for those who have lost everything, to escape, to make a new life somewhere else away from all the suffering and pain, and the memories. Amnesia is a tricky plot device that doesn’t always work well, but Hewitt pulls it off textbook-perfectly. I loved the way Owen had to write down snippets of memories on a piece of paper to remember them later, when his bruised brain has lost them again. As Owen’s memory slowly returns, usually triggered by smells, sights and sounds, his past is divulged in small, vivid snapshots which appear quite disembodied at times. It is through these we slowly learn of his fate between 1941 and the present – and there are quite a few surprises in store.

I loved every bit of this emotional rollercoaster ride of a book! Usually, I am not one that cries easily, but there was one point towards the end of the book that had me sobbing out loud with emotion. Such powerful imagery!  What I particularly loved was that there is no judgment, no blame, just the snapshots of people caught up in a terrible era, united by trauma, death and loss, and the powerful will to survive.

“Do you hate the Germans?” It was, perhaps, a foolish question, and for a long time she did not answer. “Some people, they mistook the devil for God,” she said eventually. “In my opinion, it is an easy mistake to make.”
He saw it all around him. He had walked through the city’s flattened streets, picking his way around the rubble of the train station and gazing around him at the forlorn carcasses of buildings, the endless flurries of dust blowing out and swilling around his feet, and all he could think was: we did this. Max and I. Deliverymen delivering bombs. They couldn’t be held responsible, but he felt responsibility all the same.

Although Hewitt conveys the sense of doom and hopelessness of a time when so many people had lost everything, there is always an underlying thread of hope the reader can hold on to, a small sign of humanity amidst the rubble.


Devastation Road is one of the most compelling, visual and thought-provoking books of WWII I have ever read, capturing the immediate aftermath of the war, when around 7 million refugees were roaming a ravaged country in search of loved ones or to find a way home. Insightful, visual and poetic, it is a wonderful exploration of human resilience in the aftermath of the worst possible trauma humankind could endure. I loved every bit about this book, and recommend it highly to all lovers of the genre. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown and Company for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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