Amanda Hodgkinson’s powerful novel begins just after World War II as Janusz, a Pole determined to remake himself as an Englishman, awaits his family’s arrival at 22 Britannia Road (Penguin, $16). His wife and young son barely survived the conflict by hiding out in the forests of Poland, and their new home adds a cultural shock to their wartime traumas. As the three struggle to come to terms with the past, their vastly different experiences of the previous six years make life as a normal family almost impossible. Hodgkinson’s narrative poses a range of questions surrounding home and identity, including the confusion over one’s place in the world and in history.
Alternating between the voices of its two main characters, Alice Mattison’s When We Argued All Night (Harper Perennial, $14.99) dramatizes the changes, fears, and aggression of 1930s New York City. Determined to make their mark on the world and on each other through Communism, marriage, or teaching, Artie Saltzman and Harold Abramovitz, friends since childhood, grow to understand how little they really know of the events surrounding them. Mattison tracks their lives through World War II, the McCarthy witch-hunts, and the tumultuous 1960s, when they relive their own youth through that of their children. But it’s one particular, personal incident that has the greatest and most enduring repercussions for the two men.
Simon Mawer’s new novel starts with a cliffhanger: a woman parachutes into occupied France. This is operation Trapeze (Other Press, $15.95) and British Marian, aka Alice, is about to become French Anne-Marie— but will her partners be there to catch her when she falls? Based on the true story of one of the 53 women recruited by Britain’s Special Operations Executive to work undercover with the French Resistance, Mawer’s fiction vividly evokes a time of danger and privations and dramatizes how the war effort commandeered private as well as public lives. It’s also an insightful and fascinating depiction of a woman’s experience in a high-stakes man’s world. As he did so powerfully in Mendel’s Dwarf and The Glass Room, Mawer again keeps multiple tonalities in play, the spy thriller making room for a complicated love story, and the treacheries of wartime espionage leading to the laws of atomic physics—all conveyed in prose that’s as lyrically descriptive as it is cleanly factual.