From the acclaimed writer Peter Ho Davies comes an engrossing wartime love story set in the stunning landscape of North Wales during the final, harrowing months of World War II.
Young Esther Evans has lived her whole life within the confines of her remote mountain village. The daughter of a fiercely nationalistic sheep farmer, Esther yearns for a taste of the wider world that reaches her only through broadcasts on the BBC. Then, in the wake of D-day, the world comes to her in the form of a German POW camp set up on the outskirts of Esther's village.
The arrival of the Germans in the camp is a source of intense curiosity in the local pub, where Esther pulls pints for both her neighbors and the unwelcome British guards. One summer evening she follows a group of schoolboys to the camp boundary. As the boys heckle the prisoners across the barbed wire fence, one soldier seems to stand apart. He is Karsten Simmering, a German corporal, only eighteen, a young man of tormented conscience struggling to maintain his honor and humanity. To Esther's astonishment, Karsten calls out to her.
These two young people from worlds apart will be drawn into a perilous romance that calls into personal question the meaning of love, family, loyalty, and national identity. The consequences of their relationship resonate through the lives of a vividly imagined cast of characters: the drunken BBC comedian who befriends Esther, Esther's stubborn father, and the resentful young British "evacuee" who lives on the farm -- even the German-Jewish interrogator investigating the most notorious German prisoner in Wales, Rudolf Hess.
Peter Ho Davies has been hailed for his "all-encompassing empathy that is without borders" (Elle). That trancendent compassion shines through The Welsh Girl, a novel that is both thought-provoking and emotionally enthralling.
Prologue: September 1944
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. Theres a scraping of chairs, then the snap of a switch as the projector
starts up. The room fills with the sharp chemical smell of acetate, the ionized
stink of scorched dust.
Lights, Rotheram calls, and the lamps are extinguished. On the makeshift screen a bed sheet tacked to the wall, ironed creases still visible an image blooms, blurred at first, then twisted into focus. Clouds. Wispy, cotton-wool clouds slide across the screen, and then the camera dips beneath them, and theres the city, spread out like a map. The screen fills with gothic script, Triumph des Willens, and beneath it in shaky subtitles, Triumph of the Will.
The watching men flicker in the reflected light. Theyre seated in a rough semicircle, a handful of dining chairs ...
The Welsh Girl portrays the lives of ordinary people with empathy and insight via a simple plot that leaves ample room to explore its powerful themes. The first of which are the related concepts of nationalism, prejudice and dislocation. The sheep are likely the happiest characters in the book because they are bound by cynefin, a word that apparently has no English equivalent but means a sense of place. From one generation to the next, the sheep know the boundaries of their own land and never stray. Not so the humans. Esther longs to escape the village, but feels a loyalty to the flock and her father; Rotheram is caught between two worlds; Karsten is an outcast from his fellow soldiers; and most of the locals that we meet cannot work out who they are most aggrieved with, the English or the Germans.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (981 words).
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