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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 uestion the meaning of love family loyalty and national identity The conseuences 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


10 thoughts on “The Welsh Girl

  1. says:

    Historical fiction set in northern Wales near the end of WWII involving three primary characters Esther is a seventeen year old whose mother died when she was young She helps her father run her family’s sheep farm and also works in a local pub Karsten is a German soldier who speaks English He is being held in a nearby POW camp and is haunted by his decision to surrender Rotheram is a half Jewish German who has fled to England and works as an interrogator of German prisoners specifically assigned to interview Rudolf Hess At first his story seems unrelated but as the book progresses we begin to see the impact of his story on the other two This is a subtle slowly developing character driven book The characters are ordinary people brought together during extraordinary times Each character is faced with moral quandaries and the author keeps the reader’s interest in wondering how these issues will be resolved The three main characters are very different yet they are similar in that each is an outcast and each character struggles with doubt guilt and fear They evolve over time learning through their experiencesThough this story eventually involves a relationship it does not sink into sentimentality and it is not the primary focus of the book Instead it is oriented around symbols such as the Welsh concept of cynefin a Welsh term connoting the intimate connection between the sheep and the land they occupy It is not difficult to extrapolate this idea to the people in the story Themes include nationalism identity belonging freedom secrecy honor courage and loyalty I have always been interested in reading about different parts of the world during the second World War to get a feel for what life was like and how people coped It is like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle filling in portions at a time to eventually reveal the bigger picture This book fills in the pieces related to life in the rural Welsh countryside which is an integral part of the story I learned a great deal about the history and culture of Wales I found it extremely well written meaningful and thought provoking


  2. says:

    The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies is set in a Welsh village near the end of WWII Davies splendidly sets his story against the backdrop of WWII without weighing it down with too much action or too many war terms It is also set against a pastoral countryside so there are very lyrical and elegant passages There’s also a love story between the Welsh girl and the German POW but it goes beyond thatWhat’s most intriguing about this story is that it is driven by the characters’ actions and development during the war The story is told in third person subjective so that we get an intimate perspective and alternates between Esther Rotheram and Karsten Esther is a seventeen year old Welsh girl who works at a pub serving the Welsh as well as the English soldiers She’s curious about the POW camp Rotheram is a German Jew that left to England on his mother’s insistence and became an interrogator He is sent to the Welsh village to interrogate a supposed Nazi feigning amnesia Karsten is a German soldier who surrenders and gets sent to a POW camp at a Welsh village All three of them change and gain something by the end of the novel despite the many tragediesFor instance Esther gains a new definition of patriotism “Why fatherland and not motherland? She’d wondered But now she thinks Why should the love of fathers or mothers be equated to love of country? Couldn’t you love your country by loving your children? Weren’t they your nation at the last?” Karsten gains a sense of serenity “He had felt such peace he was sure it the war must be over that they’d separate and rise to the bright news of armistice An end to the war that was neither victory nor defeat just peace”Rotheram comes to terms with his identity— “It had never occurred to Rotheram that he could be unashamed of fleeing of escaping of living Of being Jewish—if that was what he was And suddenly it felt not only possible but right to not be German or British to escape all those debts and duties the shackles of nationalismThe 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 a pure freedom to be without a country”By Claudia Estrada


  3. says:

    I loved this book It was a little slow going at first and the first 20 30 pages I had to half push myself into Then I got caught up in the story The language used is beautiful some sentences so perfect they hurt but at the same time it doesn't distract at all from the story being told This is a book I read at first primarily for the story and now I want to reread again for the subtle nuances I missed But it makes me think and it makes me happy and I love the characters not just how they are drawn and developed but who they are Just beautiful


  4. says:

    In a small village in North Wales in 1944 seventeen year old Esther works behind the bar at the Quarryman's Arms with her boss Jack Her father a sheep farmer spends his evenings in the pub's Welsh speaking public bar while the lounge side of the pub is full of Englishmen sappers mostly soldiers who were sent to this out of the way place to build something secretive Esther has been seeing one of these sappers a young man called Colin it is the closest she can get to her dreams of seeing the world The war is both distant and ever present while few of their young men have signed up Rhys a clumsy slow witted young man who worked on her father's farm and who had asked to marry her is one of them there is rationing the drone of planes overhead and the presence of soldiers They listen to Churchill on the wireless in the evenings but not even the war against Nazi Germany can dull the clash between the Welsh locals and the English interlopersKarsten is German an only child whose father is long gone a tall strongly built young man who happily signed up for Hitler's army He even became a corporal and could have gone far if he hadn't been posted to one of the beaches that were targeted by the Allied forces on D Day Overwhelmed he surrenders and is sent over the Channel with the other prisoners of war to England and then Wales where he is kept in the brand new POW camp outside Esther's village The camp is just over the hills of her family's farm and the boy Jim an evictee from England who lives with them joins a group of older boys who taunt and heckle the prisoners From London comes Captain Rotheram a half Jewish German whose mother was Canadian He fled Europe several years before and has been working with Colonel Hawkins first as a document translator his German is superior and later helping Hawkins interrogate the prisoners He is sent to Wales where the high up Nazi leader Rudolf Hess is being stored ostensibly to ascertain whether he's faking his amnesia in order to have him stand trial for war crimes later in Nuremberg From there he is sent north to a small village with an un pronouncable name where one of the POWs has escapedAs these three connect they come to question their loyalties and their place in the world as well as their notions of right and wrongAfter a fascinating lengthy prologue from several months ahead in time September 1944 where Rotheram goes to see Hess the story steps backwards to June and takes up Esther's story From there it is mostly quite slow or I should say Esther's side of the story is quite slow and I didn't find that Davies wrote this female character as strongly and capably as he did Rotheram and Kerstan It was hard to get close to her even when she let us see inside her mind and soul She was a sympathetic character the lonely motherless girl who yearns for travel and adventure with a taciturn father who'd rather work at the quarry if it were open it's being used to store treasures from the National Gallery instead than farm sheep Her thoughts towards others are often quite harsh in the way of teenagers and yet with her responsibilities of running the house and working at the pub and being a pseudo mother to young difficult Jim she's no teenager not really For as strongly as she comes across as a character I could never get close to her I never had a moment of bonding woman to woman In contrast Karstan was the character I wanted of It's not often you get English language historical fiction that explores the German side Hans Fallada comes to mind and it's even rarer to find a largely sympathetic portrayal of a Nazi soldier But it is the Nazi side that I am often most curious about precisely because it's less explored And Karstan was a surprisingly heroic character not surprising because he was a Nazi just surprising in the context of the story He has charisma he's physically attractive and he shows that right and wrong are in the eyes of the beholder so to speak He didn't believe Hitler was wrong though his loyalty isn't as staunch as the other POWs but as to what he really diddoes think Davies ducks that bullet It was a bit of a let down that Davies doesn't tackle the psychology of the Nazi side He subtly nudged it a bit but mainly avoided going down that road This left Karstan disappointingly flat as a character by the endAnd then there's Rotheram who really only makes an appearance at the beginning and at the very end He has several confronting conversations with Hess Hess provides the most enlightenment of the Nazi psychology even if he claims to have no memory of ever being Hitler's right hand man and Hess makes him face his own racism towards the Jews Rotheram's mother was an ethnic German whose family migrated to Canada years before his father a German Jew but he refuses to acknowledge this side of his heritage and denies that he is Jewish at all he doesn't appear to be Jewish in the religious sense of the word but it wasn't religion that the Nazis were upset about but being Jewish It is Hess who makes him realise that his denial speaks loudly to his anti Jewish sentiment which makes him no different from Hess It was the most interesting psychological part of the whole novelEsther finds herself compromised by Colin she won't call it rape because as she understands it women who are raped are also murdered and this alters everything But it is her relationship with the POW that gives the story is main plot and thrust propelling the story forward Otherwise it's not a plot driven story so much as it is an exploration of culture clash between the British and the Germans and between the Welsh and the English As a look inside Welsh culture in the 40s at least it's very enlightening It explores the concept of Welsh nationality often using sheep as an analogy and what it means to be Welsh and the meaning behind the derogatory slang term to welsh or welch which I'd never stopped to think about before By the end of the novel the main theme that came across is a fundamental basic principle people are people no matter what ethnicity you are or country you come from or what side of a war you are on At the end of the day there's very little separating people from each other and much of what's there needs to be constantly kept alive by fanning the flames of hate and fear and contempt In that regard it was a successful well written story I just wish Davies had written his characters as strongly as he did his themes


  5. says:

    My interest was held by this historical fiction novel set in England at and after DDay Several really good characters and two stories interwoven one in a Welsh village with all its touchy locals the incomer English and the other about the determination of Rudolph Hess's sanity The best and most compelling character is Karsten a German POW captured by surrender on DDAY who was eventually held in a POW camp in the insular Welsh village He was a very sympathetic character surprisingly so His interactions with the London boy sent for safety to Wales with the Welsh girl are both painful and beautiful The earlier interaction of the girl and an English soldier sent to build the camp are just painful Her naivety is difficult to imagine but believable under the circumstances I didn't expect to be drawn into the book as I was There are moving passages there's so much sadness but not really darkness I'm still pondering whether or not the common German soldier really didn't know what their hierarchy was up to with the camps until the end of the war I would like for that to be true Whatever you believe about that this is a very good read


  6. says:

    Wow Just wow Such an incredible book I can't put into words how good it is Reviewed by Mrs NMy Rating 5 stars


  7. says:

    This novel is about conflicts of nation loyalty and identity Novels trying to construct this kind of story sometimes become cliche but this one has a very sincere tone that is refreshing English intelligence officer Rotherham has trouble dealing with his German Jewish heritage A German officer surrenders under heavy fire is sent to a camp in Wales and begins to see the uncertainties of his life overall A young Welsh woman wonders where the definitions are set enemy? traitor? fatherland? And where does a woman's future play a part in all this? Even though telling the story of the Welsh girl is given breadth it doesn't necessarily have the most depth Actually it is the smaller passages in the book that make this story powerful Rotherham's conversations with the war criminal and his own outcome after the war are key to the novel In the latter part of the story German soldier Karsten is brought to despair not by his army's defeat but ultimately learning what they had fought for After he watches postwar newsreels of Belsen prison camp he says To be fighting for that And I was ashamed of surrendingThis is a thoughtful story on many levels Most importantly it describes the fact that when nations declare war individuals are not so simply divided into distinct citizenship nor do they form instantly clear personal truths


  8. says:

    There were a lot of things I really liked about this book There were beautiful lyrical descriptions of life in Wales during the war with particularly interesting comments on national loyalties The Welsh girl at the centre of the story was a very interesting character and everyone in the story was very believable However I kept waiting for the connection with the story about Hess to become clear and when it did it was really a very slight connection There were some wonderful little scenes with Hess one I particularly liked when they went for a drive and met a bull I think because I kept waiting for the two stories to be intertwined I had the feeling throughout the book that I was reading an introduction to the story and it had not yet got going


  9. says:

    You’d think I’d have learned by now that just because a book was nominated for the Man Booker prize doesn’t mean I’ll like it Even though it got good reviews when it was first published several years ago and even though many other readers have raved about it and even though the description sounded interesting and even though it had been recommended to me I just didn’t like it I probably should have put it aside right away because it didn’t take long for me to realize that I just wasn’t getting into it the way I usually do when I’m reading something that engages me Almost from the opening sentences which sounded a bit hackneyed and cliché ridden I had my doubts and was tempted to put it aside Instead I kept reading right on through to the end and I’m not even sure why Probably because of the setting setting Wales the time period the Second World War in the months following D Day and what sounded like a good premise for an interesting story what happens when a German prisoner of war in remote camp in rural Wales falls in love with the daughter of a fiercely patriotic Welshman? In the hands of a different writer this might have turned out differently But unfortunately that didn’t happen here The characters should have been carefully drawn and the plot less driven by situations and scenes that were either totally unbelievable or disappointingly predictable To make matters worse the book opens and ends with a parallel plot line involving Rudolph Hess the Nazi war criminal which might have been interesting except that it was never clear just what if anything it had to do with the rest of the novel I kept wondering why it had even been included In fact all the way through this disappointing book I kept wondering why I was still reading it But I suppose if there’s any benefit at all from reading books that are less than satisfying it’s in knowing there are so many other ones waiting to be read that will be much enjoyable


  10. says:

    This novel will haunt the reader long after closing the book That's what the Oregonian had to say about this story and what I think they meant by that statement was it will haunt the reader that they wasted even one moment on the book The storyline sounded promising Welsh girl is drawn to a camp of POW's near her village Makes you think of the young story of The Summer of My German Soldier right? Nope Quite a few story lines that could have been a success but instead left me feeling like nothing occurred at all There was no development of characters so it was impossible to have any sort of closure I sped through the book simply for the sake of saying I finished it but not one I'd recommend to anyone else