Excerpt from The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Welsh Girl

by Peter Ho Davies

The Welsh Girl
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2007, 352 pages
    Jan 2008, 352 pages

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Print Excerpt

Just before her death, she told him how she’d been spat on in the streets of Berlin in 1919. “After Versailles,” she said. “Because I was Canadian. That’s what your grandparents could never forgive. I was a reminder of the enemy who’d killed their son. I wasn’t German enough for them, you see?”

Among her possessions, after her funeral, he ’d found a photograph of his father he ’d never seen before. It must have been taken on that last leave because he looked gaunt, his tunic loose on his frame, his features sharpened almost to caricature, no longer the smiling, slightly plump figure in a close-fitting uniform that Rotheram had seen in earlier poses. This was his father, he thought, and the figure had seemed to rebuke him.

And yet the following week he’d gone ahead and Anglicized his name.

He looked at his watch — not quite one a.m. — and decided to try the CO. Hawkins was an insomniac — his own sleep ruined by so many round-the-clock interrogations — and often spent nights at his desk catching up on paperwork. Sure enough, he picked up on the second ring, sounding more alert than the sleepy operator who put Rotheram’s call through.

Barefoot, greatcoat over his pajamas, Rotheram huddled over the phone in the drafty hall and said he was ready to head back to London.

“You’ve made up your mind about Hess? That was quick.”

Rotheram hesitated, stared at some movement down the hall, realized it was his own reflection in a mirror.

“Not really.”

“What? Speak up.”

“No, sir,” Rotheram enunciated. He cupped his hand around the mouthpiece, conscious of the stillness of the house around him. “I’m just not sure I’ll be able to, under the circumstances.”

“So spend some more time. Take another run at him.”

“I don’t think that’ll do any good,” Rotheram offered.

“But why, for heaven’s sake?” Hawkins seemed to be shouting in the quiet of the hallway.

And Rotheram was forced to admit that he was reluctant to find Hess sane because the thought of confirming Redgrave and Mills’s assumptions rankled.

“Let me get this straight,” the CO said. “You believe you can judge Hess fairly, but you’re concerned that others won’t see that judgment as impartial because they think you’re Jewish.

Those are the horns of your dilemma?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, but do you ever think you might not be so impartial after all?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Rotheram said tightly. “Even if I were Jewish, I’m not sure why it should make me any less impartial than a Frenchman or a Russian.”

He heard Hawkins take a sip of something, and then another. Finally he asked, “Tell me, my boy, honestly now, don’t you ever think about your family? Your grandparents made for Paris, you say. Don’t you wonder where they are, what’s become of them?”

Rotheram was momentarily taken aback. He began to say no and stopped, unsure. Hawkins had taught him to recognize the pause before answering as a lie. It came to Rotheram that whatever he said now would seem false. So he was silent, which as Hawkins had taught him might mean a man was holding something back, or simply that he didn’t know.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he whispered now. “You’ll have my report Monday morning.”

There was a long sigh at the other end of the line, and Rotheram felt how he’d failed Hawkins. But when the CO spoke again he sounded brusquely hearty.

“No need to hurry back, my boy. There’ve been some new orders, as a matter of fact. The POW department want someone to visit their camps up in North Wales. Something to do with screening and the reeducation program. Denazification and all that. Thought you’d be just the fellow to liaise. Anyhow, the orders should catch up with you there later today, or tomorrow at the latest.”

Copyright © 2007 by Peter Ho Davies. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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