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The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
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The Welsh Girl (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Peter Ho Davies

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803None11,461 (3.5)83
Member:countrylife
Title:The Welsh Girl
Authors:Peter Ho Davies
Info:Mariner Books (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:( FICTION, .historical fiction, T.20 th century, T.1940s, N.British literature, P.Wales, P.Germany, evacuees, POW, WWII, {cover-upload, Read 2009, reviewed, Read

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The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (2007)

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Slowly building to a moving resolution: A few years ago I came across a short story from a new writer called "The Ugliest House in the World." Set in a small Welsh town, the story was simple, clear, and incredibly moving; I've never forgotten it and I have often wondered if he wrote anything else. Just recently, I read a review of a debut novel by the same author, Peter Ho Davies. Delicate, lyrical, and quiet, the novel slowly opens up and pulls you in. Set in the wanning days of World War II, the story centers around the titular Ethel Evans, a young barmaid who helps her aging father and his flock of sheep, a German P.O.W. named Karsten, and a town of nationalistic Welsh miners, young English evacuees, and a whole community that while on the periphary of war are no doubt touched by it.
  lonepalm | Feb 5, 2014 |
This was a lovely story set in the Welsh countryside during the end stages of WWII. The story centers around two main characters, 17 year old Esther and German soldier Karsten, and gradually and beautifully shows how their lives intersect.

The story alternates between Esther's and Karsten's points of view. Each little section gives us more and more insight into the characters and their lives and their hopes and dreams. Esther is a miner/sheep farmer's daughter, so her life isn't exactly luxurious. She works hard, and bears a great deal of responsibility after the death of her mother. Karsten, who is my favorite character, is a fatherless German who, being raised by his mother in their inn, is very naive and innocent when it comes to men. He doesn't understand the way that men think or act, although he is among them and one of them. I loved the inverted perspective that we get from Karsten, and his sense of honor and virtue and truth, even when it causes him pain at the derision of his peers.

There was a running theme in this book of courage and cowardice, and what those things actually mean to us. How they make us who we are. Also, a theme of home, nationality and indentity, and that who we think we are isn't necessarily who we REALLY are.

I very much enjoyed this book, even though the war itself and the Nazi atrocities were far in the background, which isn't the usual WWII book I go for. I loved that this was a story about people, and felt personal and intimate and real. There were some unrealistic things, to me, but those come down to the behavior of people, and nothing in that is ever unrealistic, as people are unpredictable and strange, sometimes.

I enjoyed the ending as well, and the openness that it left us with, so that we can end it in the way that the reader finds appropriate, whatever will give the reader closure. :) ( )
  TheBecks | Apr 1, 2013 |
...sigh...
  pam.enser | Apr 1, 2013 |
I always hesitate to read WWII books or any books on war for that matter. I always think they are going to be depressing, dry or too violent, but usually I’m pleasantly surprise when I take the time to read one. The Welsh Girl was one of those that pleasantly surprised me.

The first couple of pages (prologue) were a bit dry, but I was glad that I pushed through it because I discovered a gem when I got to Esther’s perspective of the story. The book follows the perspective of three characters: Roth, Esther and Karsten, but really Esther’s and Karsten’s perspectives predominate the book. Having the different shifts in character views was really interesting and made it a unique story because of the background of each character. The characters jumped off the page for me and at times I found myself wanting to hug them. The writing was simply beautiful.

My only critique is the ending. I won’t say much, but initially I wished the ending could have been happier. However, after thinking about it for some time I felt like the ending was left a bit open so that readers could make up their own ending.
( )
  Jaguar897 | Mar 31, 2013 |
his is a great example of an intriguing cover and title, but the book not quite living up to their potential.

The story takes place in Wales right after D-Day. It follows Esther, a Welsh girl, and Karstan, a German prisoner of war. It sounded like a book you could curl up with and loose yourself in. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to do that. It moved rather slowly. There seemed to be gaps in my understanding of what was happening, or things I should have already known, or I just was skimming too much! Esther's father is a very nationalistic Welsh shepherd who would much rather be working in the slate quarry. But, due to a strike years before and failing economy, he is stuck with his sheep. Esther is also stuck - she has been proposed to by Rhys as he was getting ready to leave for war. She quickly turns him down. Then in the opening scene of the story, she is attacked by her English date. She tells no one and as the story plods through you discover that she is pregnant - long before she ever admits it to herself. The village is the new home of a POW camp for captured Germans. Karstan appears here after he surrenders. He is also trapped; by the fence, by his understanding of English and his deep realization that Germany will loose the war, by the hopes of his mother and the hero status of his WWI father.

As the book slogs through time the characters slog through their unwanted lives.

For a WWII book about the winning side - there is very little euphoria, very little hope. Instead it's like Esther's ride to Ireland on the train for an abortion. As they arrive in town and she sees the extent of the bombing and destruction she imagines all the places she will never see, all the experiences she will never have all the possibilities that no longer exist because the war has changed them - not only the landscape - but who they are.

So, it's hard to recommend this very strongly. There are some beautifully written passages - but the pace is as slow as the winters in the war!
  kebets | Dec 31, 2012 |
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(Prologue) Outside, the technicolor sunset is giving way to the silvery sweep of searchlights over distant Cardiff as a hand tugs the blackout curtain across the sky.
(Chapter One) It's a close June night in the Welsh hills, taut with the threat of thunder, and the radios of the village cough with static.
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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)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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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