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The Welsh Girl    by Peter Ho Davies order for
Welsh Girl
by Peter Ho Davies
Order:  USA  Can
Mariner, 2008 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

It's World War II, and we are in a remote part of Wales. A young woman helps her fiercely nationalistic father tend their sheep, and works evenings at the local pub. They have taken in a boy evacuated from London, and nearby, in a prison built to house captured Germans, a young sergeant tries to make peace with his surrender. In another part of Wales, captured deputy Führer Rudolf Hess is being interrogated by a German Jew, who together with his mother, had escaped Germany to England.

It is the fate of each of these people that their lives will intertwine, and important questions will come up: What is cowardice? What is honor? How much loyalty do we owe our country? Will it be possible to escape a life that is completely unsatisfactory? To whom or what do we belong?

Peter Ho Davies has written a beautiful and meticulously researched story. It is as eye-opening to realize the continuing feelings of animosity between the Welsh and the English as it is to learn how sheep get and keep their sense of place. The scenes between Jim and the English-speaking sergeant are striking in how they capture what it must feel like for a boy, on the cusp of manhood, to be lucky enough to have someone who understands. Honor as a character trait figures large in this story and is expressed in the personal, national and philosophical sense.

The only part of the novel that doesn't quite work for me are the scenes with Hess. Though the dialog is well written, and the psychological insights very illuminating, this part of the story doesn't quite come together with the rest as a whole. It is definitely worthy subject matter - I see it as a separate story but I think not necessary to this one. That said, I definitely heartily recommend The Welsh Girl to all. It is a treat!

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