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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Welsh Girl - Peter Ho Davies

Read for the Complete Booker 2010 and TBR Lite 2010 Reading Challenges.

The Welsh Girl is the story of Esther, a girl from northern Wales, whose village is home to a POW camp during WWII, as well as Karsten, a German soldier who ends up in the camp after surrendering during the invasion of Normandy.

The first thing that this book made me think of was a picture I have of my grandmother reading a letter that my grandfather had sent her while he was in Europe during this war. Esther’s story is about those people left behind, and what it’s like to be on the home front while young men you love go away.

This is also a story about honor – both Esther and Karsten have lost their honor, in different, but profound ways. In Karsten’s case, it’s the fact that he surrendered, and was uninjured, in battle. Even worse, because he speaks English, he was the person forced to do the surrendering, and that has profound effects on his treatment in the POW camp. Esther’s lost of honor is different, and more integral to the story, so I’ll leave that up to the reader to discover.

Lastly, it’s a story about home, and loyalty to home. Esther is Welsh, and grew up speaking Welsh, though she has learned English in school, and has that in into the English world. The war is considered an English war in her village, and the contrasts of that view, and Karsten’s views about the Fatherland really made me think. I’m certainly familiar with the historical relationship between England and Wales, but I often see it in a historical context. Seeing it in a time nearer to my own was an interesting experience.

I’ll end by saying I suspect this book is entirely what you take away from it. It’s a war book, but it’s certainly not a traditionally packed battle drama. This is emotional drama, and far more subtle, but perhaps more rewarding in the end.

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