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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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8574710,427 (3.47)85
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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The Welsh Girl - Peter Ho Davies
4 stars

World War 2 brings changes to a small Welsh village. Some of the young men leave to fight and do not return. Undisciplined, evacuated London children are billeted to area sheep farms. And towards the end of the war, the hated British invade to build a ‘secret’ base. Following the D-day invasion the secret is out. It’s to be a prisoner of war camp. There is a second invasion of German prisoners. The day to day troubles of the Welsh girl, Esther; Karsten, the German POW; and Jim, the London evacuee are weighed against the fate of another more infamous prisoner, in a different part of Wales, Rudolf Hess.

All of the characters in this story are struggling to come to terms with issues of honor, loyalty, guilt, and national identity. The pack behavior of village schoolboys who taunt the prisoners from outside the fence is contrasted with more lethal pack behavior inside the fence. Esther’s desire for a wider world than her small village forces her to some difficult decisions and a contemplation of honor from a woman’s perspective. Karstan is forced to reexamine everything he thought he was fighting for.

This story was slow, wandering, and inconclusive in many ways. I liked it because it did not provide easy answers or a tidy ending. It made me think.

Some quotes:

“The Jews, he knew, had no homeland, yearned for one, and yet as he understood it to be the source of their victimization, it seemed at once to be such pure freedom to be without a country”.

”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”.

“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.”
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
‘The Welsh Girl’ is set around the end of World War II. The prologue introduces us to a young man called Rotheram, the son of a Lutheran German mother. He's now working for the British, seeing if he can work out whether a Nazi criminal has lost his memory. Chapter one introduces a young woman called Esther who lives on a farm in a Welsh village. She gets caught up in a very unpleasant situation that shadows her life for the rest of the book. The third main character is Karsten, a German soldier who’s is taken to a POW camp in the village where Esther lives.

The novel follows these different individuals. They are all, seen as flawed by likeable people, sharing different perspectives on shame, on family life, and on the war in general.

The writing is good; I found the characterisation a bit superficial, but the story is told in the present tense which makes for a compelling tale. The author doesn’t mince words in some situations, although in others he leaves it to the reader to see what’s going on. I found it a bit slow-moving in places, but by the end felt that I had a better understanding of what it would have been like to live in the war.

Somehow, though, I doubt if I’ll remember any of the people for more than a week or two, and already I’m wondering just what the story was about. But that’s often the way with ‘literary’ fiction. Still, it made a good read, rather different from my normal fare. Recommended to anyone interested in the war years, who doesn’t mind a fair amount of bad language. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
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 |
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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.
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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.

(summary from another edition)

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