Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups
and provide a deeper understanding of The Welsh Girl for every reader.
- The concept of cynefin is essential to the life and livelihood of
shepherds such as Esther's father. If a flock loses connection with its
territory, it will not survive. How does the metaphor weave its way through
- The three main characters in The Welsh Girl each have some
fluency in a second language. What other qualities do Esther, Karsten, and
Rotheram have in common? How does their bilingualism shape each of their
- Esther's hometown is described as "a nationalist village, passionately
so. It's what holds the place together, like a cracked and glued china
teapot." What problems are inherent in this type of fierce nationalism, and,
conversely, are there any benefits? Where else can this nationalism be
observed, in the book and in today's world?
- Secrecy plays a large role in the novel. For example, the purpose of the
British Army camp is initially concealed from the villagers. Esther doggedly
hides what passed between her and Colin. Karsten misrepresents how he was
captured to other prisoners. Rotheram changes his name to obscure his
lineage. How do these falsehoods affect outward perceptions, and why are the
underlying truths hidden? In your own life, have you ever attempted to keep
significant events secret form those around you?
- Davies has been praised for the vivid pub scenes in The Welsh Girl.
Is Esther always accurate in her interpretation of what goes on in the pub?
How so or how not? In what regard does the pub serve as a microcosm of
events outside the pub? What are the driving sources of tension there, and
how do they reflect tensions in the world at large?
- How would you describe Esther's relationship with her father? What
bearing might this relationship have on her dealings with Jim, or with Rhys
or Colin or Karsten?
- As a German-born officer in the British Army, Rotheram grapples with
serious internal conflict, foremost that of being caught between various
cultures. Why is he unable or unwilling to embrace a singular identity? Why
does he bristle at being assigned an identity by other people?
- Discuss how Esther, who has lived on the farm all her life, and Jim, who
came to Wales as an evacuee from London, both experience the forces of
belonging and alienation. How do other characters such as Karsten and
Rotheram experience them as well?
- How does the landscape of Snowdoniaits rugged hills and green pastures
that are so richly evokedinform the story? Does it surprise you that the
war would so intimately affect such a remote area?
- How does the war change Esther's perceptions of Rhys and Mrs. Roberts,
and how does it alter her relationship with them? Do you think she treats
them both fairly? How so or how not? What would you have done if you were in
- On learning the girl's secret, Mary offers to help Esther and take her
to London. Why does Esther make the decisions she does at the end of the
book? What effect do you think they'll have on her future and the futures of
those around her?
- What impulse, do you suppose, draws Esther and Karsten together? Why
does Esther risk herself to help the German? Can you imagine that their
story would have ended differently if they had belonged to another time and
- In your opinion, does geography determine destiny? In other words, does
where we're born preordain where our loyalties will fall? How do the events
of the novel support your answer? What does Harry mean when he says, "Can't
be the butt of a joke if they dont know where you're from"?
- What do Rotheram's interviews with Rudolf Hess tell you about each of
their characters? If it were your call to make, would you have deemed Hess
fit for trial?
- Rotheram observes, "The Jews, he knew, had no homeland, yearned for one,
and yet as much as he understood it to be a source of their victimization,
it seemed at once such pure freedom to be without a country." How do the
events of the novel support this observation?
- How does each of the main characters' experiences reflect the
dehumanizing aspects of war? How has each of them lost something of their
innocence? How do their experiences resonate today?
- Davies provides a brief epilogue that explores what happens to the
characters after the war. Were you surprised by the events described there?
What outcomes would you have chosen for these characters?
- Why do you suppose the book was titled The Welsh Girl? How do the
definitions of the word "welsh" that Davies chooses to precede the novel
come to bear on the events and themes of the book?
For Further Reading
The following paperbacks from Mariner Books may be of interest to readers who
enjoyed Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl:
The Visible World by Mark Slouka
Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal
Equal Love by Peter Ho Davies
The Ugliest House in the World by Peter Ho Davies
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.