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The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

The Welsh Girl (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Peter Ho Davies

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Title:The Welsh Girl
Authors:Peter Ho Davies
Info:Mariner Books (2008), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
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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This was a good book all the way up to the ending then i was disappointed no fairy tale ending for the main girl character, but the ending suits the story because of the actions of the girl however I would have rather seen her get together with Karsten. ( )
  redheadish | Aug 24, 2015 |
The Welsh Girl of the title is Esther Evans, a 19 year old daughter of a sheep farmer, working in a local pub in Welsh speaking Wales during the second world war. The war comes to this far flung post of the country when a prison of war camp is built, bringing British engineers, German prisoners and British policeman - into a tight community some of whose young men have gone to war and been replaced by evacuees, and refugees from a BBC comedy programme. At the same time Rudolf Hess is being interrogated by an English captain of Jewish German extraction. All of these threads come together in a story that lasts throughout Esther's pregnancy (another complicated story). It's a depiction of a strong community, with a story that engages and sticks together, but perhaps doesn't stick in the mind for too long.
  otterley | Jul 12, 2015 |
I seem to have read too many war stories and they meld together. This story was too disconnected with the jumping back and forth of the different story lines, and the ending attempted to bring them all together. The setting provided a wonderful description of Wales and the Welsh people, but the character lacked depth. So many of the story lines had choppy events that transpired with no clear sequence. And of course, the Germans are portrayed as mean, inhumane creatures that batter their own troops. The story needed to be longer to give justice to the three characters, instead of flitting here and there. ( )
  delphimo | Mar 9, 2015 |
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.


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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:12 -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.

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