Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

This is a great example of  an intriguing cover and title, but the book not quite living up to their potential.

image from LibraryThing
The story takes place in Wales right after D-Day. It follows Esther, a Welsh girl, and Karstan, a German prisoner of war. It sounded like a book you could curl up with and loose yourself in. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to do that. It moved rather slowly. There seemed to be gaps in my understanding of what was happening, or things I should have already known, or I just was skimming too much! Esther's father is a very nationalistic Welsh shepherd who would much rather be working in the slate quarry. But, due to a strike years before and failing economy, he is stuck with his sheep. Esther is also stuck - she has been proposed to by Rhys as he was getting ready to leave for war. She quickly turns him down. Then in the opening scene of the story, she is attacked by her English date. She tells no one and as the story plods through you discover that she is pregnant - long before she ever admits it to herself. The village is the new home of a POW camp for captured Germans. Karstan appears here after he surrenders. He is also trapped; by the fence, by his understanding of English and his deep realization that Germany will loose the war, by the hopes of his mother and the hero status of his WWI father.

As the book slogs through time the characters slog through their unwanted lives.

For a WWII book about the winning side - there is very little euphoria, very little hope. Instead it's like Esther's ride to Ireland on the train for an abortion. As they arrive in town and she sees the extent of the bombing and destruction she imagines all the places she will never see, all the experiences she will never have all the possibilities that no longer exist because the war has changed them - not only the landscape - but who they are.

So, it's hard to recommend this very strongly. There are some beautifully written passages - but the pace is as slow as the winters in the war!

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