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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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8094111,340 (3.5)83
Member:countrylife
Title:The Welsh Girl
Authors:Peter Ho Davies
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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)

Recently added bymryan40, KelMunger, AdkNative, Becchanalia, KaiaKaye, GraceZ, kwbridge, private library
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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Such a well-written book. Unfortunately, it took me forever to read it, because I was lazy and busy and those sorts of things. But I finally sat down and read the last third in one evening and it was so good! I actually enjoyed it all along but once I really got into it, it was pretty consuming. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
Book club of two
Review TK

cynefin a sheep flock's connection to their land/territory, passed down from ewe to lamb (mother to daughter) as the males are sold off.

Quotes

It's gratitude she feels, mixed with pride and hope, and she trusts that together this blend amounts to love. (Esther, 24)

If she can't see the world, she'll settle for the world coming to her. (Esther, 30)

And it seemed miraculous to speak the same language as men he had just been trying to kill, who might kill him any second, the words passing between them faster than bullets. (Karsten, 60)

Karsten can't help thinking that he saved their lives at the cost of his own honor, and if he had it to do again, he isn't sure he'd bother. (106)

"And they call it the fatherland," she says, as if to herself. "I wonder how the mothers feel about that. How did they ever let the men get away with that one?" (Mrs. R to Esther, 128)

She ought to hate them, she thinks, and she supposes she does, but she can't quite muster the heat of anger. She doesn't know them, after all; whatever they've done, it doesn't feel like they've done it to her. (Esther, 129)

What a wound it is that stops you bleeding. (Esther, 187)

...but it requires him to forget Rhys, the real Rhys....Now it's as if he's been rechristened in death, as if Arthur and the rest have created a Rhys then can mourn. (196)

...and all at once she sees his nationalism for what it is, selfishness, and more than that, a kind of licensed misanthropy. (203)

"Sometimes it feels like they're all linked somehow, the losses, like a chain, one death coupled to the next, and the next, whichever side they're on." (208)

"A film like that [Triumph of the Will] does something more important than stir the few, don't you think? It makes the rest an audience. Passive, you see? You watch a film, you sit in a cinema, you see things, you feel things, but you do nothing." He leans closer. "That film made our actions a drama to be watched, talked about, as if it were only happening on a screen, on a set. Forget incitement. That's the power of film, to draw a line between those who act and those who watch." (Hess to Rotheram, 223)

So this is bravery, she thinks, staring at the stars pinned above her. This absence of fear. Not something you feel, after all, but something you don't. (Esther, 239)

No, she tells herself, she has too many regrets already. She refuses to take on another. (245)

Patriotism? She's never seen before how love of country is so wrapped up in the love of fathers, but it suddenly seems so typical of the way men would ask for love. No, not even ask. Demand, as a duty. (254-255)

Escape, it has come to Karsten, is as complicated as surrender. Not one act, one moment, so much as a process. (258)

This is what men will never understand, she realizes....Their dishonor, men's dishonor, can always be redeemed, defeat followed by victory, capture by escape, escape by capture....But women are dishonored once and for all. Their only hope is to hide it. To keep it to themselves. (271)

...and she thinks, If she can stand it, a grown child, all that wasted love, so can I. (Esther, 273)

She has so much wanted to see the world, and now, before she's got any farther than Liverpool, she's beginning to see how much of it's already gone. (282)

She can't believe it's been just one day, she feels so changed. (290)

She is composed of nothing but shame and this tiny core of growing innocence. (291)

"Sometimes I think saving my life was the worst thing I ever did in it." (Rotheram/Steiner to Karsten, 297)

A million people keeping a secret. (298)

Why fatherland and not motherland? she'd wondered. But now she thinks: Why should the love of fathers or mothers be equated with love of country? Couldn't you love your country by loving your children? Weren't they your nation, at the last? (309-310)

Rotheram knows the films are true, yet they're being used as propaganda. At heart, he's simply not sure how or even if men can be forced to believe such things. (315)

"Perhaps it was luck, but once you have enough luck, it starts to feel like fate....We knew it was impossible, but everything else before it had been impossible." (Hess to Rotheram, 316)

"You can't believe a thing is possible until you do it. Yet until you do it, why even ask if you should? There's no morality about the impossible....We couldn't believe such a thing was possible, and that's how we could do it." (Hess to Rotheram, 317)

He sees a flash of hatred in Hawkins's eyes, but doesn't regret it. Better, he thinks, that you should hate me than feel forgiven. (Rotheram, 319) ( )
  JennyArch | Jul 15, 2014 |
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 |
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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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