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The Welsh Girl (original 2007; edition 2008)
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (2007)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618918523, Paperback)Following two widely praised short-story collections, Equal Love and The Ugliest House in the World, Peter Ho Davies's first novel, The Welsh Girl, deserves to be equally well received. It carefully examines two great themes, dislocation and cowardice, through the stories of a WWII POW camp built by the British in the remote mountains of northern Wales and Esther, the 17-year-old Welsh girl at the heart of the story. The POW camp, filled with Germans, is yet another national insult, as far as the Welsh are concerned, only one of many instances of prejudice between and among the novel's characters: Welshman against Brit and vice versa, Brits and Welshmen against Germans, Germans against Jews. Some of these enmities are age-old antagonisms; others are newly-minted political killing machines.
Davies introduces a Welsh concept--cynefin--for which there is no English equivalent. It means a certain knowledge and sense of place that is passed down the matrilineal line in a flock of sheep. They always know where they belong and never leave their own turf. It is a perfect metaphor for much of what takes place in this carefully plotted story, and for the displacement felt by many of the characters. Esther longs to escape her village, yet is devoted to the flock and to her father. She meets Colin, an English soldier, in the pub where she works. He is a rough sort and things end very badly between them.
Another theme visited again and again is the concept of cowardice. Is it cowardly to save one's life and the lives of others by surrendering to the enemy? Is death the price that must be paid to be considered brave? The German POWs debate this endlessly, especially Karsten, an intelligent, sensitive soldier who did surrender himself and his men when it was clear that all was lost. When he and Esther find one another under impossible circumstances, Davies renders their relationship perfectly: it is star-crossed, but desperately important to both of them, setting them both "free" in the truest sense of the word. The Welsh Girl is a beautifully told story of love, war, and the accommodations we make in the midst of both. --Valerie Ryan
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:32 -0400)
At the height of World War II, a forbidden romance blossoms between seventeen-year-old Esther Evans, the daughter of a Welsh shepherd, and Karsten Simmering, a troubled young German prisoner of war, who questions what he has been fighting for.
(summary from another edition)
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