Friday, December 23, 2016
Review of Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt (Scribner, 2015)
Set in the last days of the Second World War, Devastation Road charts Owen’s journey from a field in Czechoslovakia back to England. As told by Hewitt it’s both a physical and metaphorical journey – a slog across Germany and one of self-discovery. With amnesia and disorientated, Owen sets off on foot accompanied by a young man, Janek who is seeking his brother. Initially avoiding roads, they soon join the endless stream of refugees and are joined by Irena and her baby, who is seeking the man who raped her to pass on the child. Together they journey to an abandoned prisoner of war camp, then onto the rubble of Leipzig, ending up in concentration camp shortly after liberation. Along the journey Owen starts to remember fragments of his life and how he ended up on the continent. Janek and Irena have their own secrets that are also gradually revealed. The strength of the story is the hook of the journey and the evolving dynamic between Owen, Janek and Irena and the gradual piecing together of each of their lives. The tale seemed to sag and lose direction a little in the middle section, and I never quite connected with the lead characters, but Hewitt brings the story to a poignant denouement. The result is a thoughtful tale that deals with themes of memory, belonging, regret, and redemption.