The period shortly before and after Germany surrendered in 1945 was violently chaotic. Some troops were still fighting. Others were fleeing across countries to be captured by the country of their choice. Most cities in central Europe had been bombed to smithereens. Refugees (and soldiers) were hungry, wounded, and desperate. All of this makes for a gut punch of a novel, Jason Hewitt’s Devastation Road, that reads like a World War II version of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
All Owen knows about himself as Devastation Road begins is his name, that he was maybe a pilot, and that he’s not in England. A few odd names and memories float around in his head, but nothing sticks for weeks. He also knows that he’s in hostile territory, so it’s fortunately that a young Czech Resistance fighter named Janek takes him under his teenage wing. The two barely share a common language and Janek is increasingly irritated by Owen’s faulty memory. The only reason the Czech sticks around is because Owen owes him two lives—though Owen has no idea why.
The pair duck and dodge German and Russian soldiers, heading west, until they run into another unfortunate soul. A young woman with a shaved head was trying to get someone to take her infant son, someone who could care for the child. After Owen takes the baby, Irena catches up to them and the slowly make their way to the German border through the Czech countryside. None of them are very happy about the arrangement, but not enough to strike out on their own. As the novel rolls along, Owen learns Janek and Irena’s secrets. His memories slowly return, enough for him to remember memories that he probably wishes would have remained buried.
While I enjoyed the characters, what I loved most about Devastation Road was its atmosphere of weary danger. Everyone is this novel is physically and emotionally exhausted (with a few stunning exceptions), but they carry on because the war is not quite over. Ever after the Axis surrender, the war wouldn’t be over for people looking for friends and relatives, their homes, or even just food to sustain them for another few steps. The plot serves, at least in part, as a vehicle for exploring the strange, bombed out world of central Europe in the spring of 1945.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 3 July 2017.