He was a very sympathetic character, surprisingly My interest was held by this historical fiction novel set in England at and after DDay. He was a very sympathetic character, surprisingly so. 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! In a small village in North Wales in , 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 s In a small village in North Wales in , seventeen-year-old Esther works behind the bar at the Quarryman's Arms with her boss, Jack. 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 interlopers. Karsten 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.
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 escaped. As these three connect, they come to question their loyalties and their place in the world, as well as their notions of right and wrong. After a fascinating, lengthy prologue from several months ahead in time September , 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 more 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. 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 end. And 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 novel. Esther 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. View 1 comment. Oct 10, N. Light rated it it was amazing Shelves: literary-fiction , reviews-by-mrs-n , historical-fiction. Just wow! Such an incredible book. I can't put into words how good it is.
Reviewed by: Mrs. Apr 12, SarahC rated it really liked it. 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? And where does a woman's future play a part in all this? Even though telling the story of the Welsh girl is given more breadth, it doesn't necessarily have the most depth. Actually, it is the smaller passages in the book that make this story more 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 surrending. 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.
Jul 25, Lady Drinkwell rated it liked it. 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 w There were a lot of things I really liked about this book.
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.
May 03, Trisha rated it did not like it Shelves: life-is-too-short-to-read-bad-books. 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. The characters should have been more 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. The storyline sounded promising- Welsh girl is drawn to a camp of POW's near her village. Quite a few story lines that could have been a success, but instead, left me feeling l "This novel will haunt the reader long after closing the book. 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. Apr 17, Keith Taylor rated it it was amazing.
Reader's Guide for The Welsh Girl published by Houghton Mifflin Company
Got to admit I love this book. I heard him read from it while it was in construction, so was ready to be bitten when it was finished. I'm a sucker for historical fiction, and this did not disappoint. Jun 26, Jim rated it liked it Recommends it for: Shepherds. The construction of a secret camp causes much excitement in the village, particularly for Esther, a young barmaid who has fallen for one of the English soldiers tasked with building the camp.
Soon after, Esther has a secret of her own. Auf Weidersehen Collin, enter Karsten, a dashing young blond German Navy infantryman who is as clever with his hands as he is with his tongue. The Fuhrer dismissed Hess as a lunatic. Hess professed amnesia and Churchill had the aviator locked up for the duration of the war in a series of safe houses in Wales.
Pairing him with an interrogator who is conflicted about his identity and is in extreme denial about his Jewish ancestry was a masterstroke. Each of the three major characters suffers from a severe conflict of identity. Each one of these characters could carry the novel, but the hero-by-committee approach falls short. We even follow Hess to his cell in Spandau where he committed suicide at the age of ninety-three, a cipher Sep 26, Kalen rated it it was ok Shelves: reads. First, the description of the book here and elsewhere feels like it was written by someone who didn't read the book.
Secondly, I found Esther to be mildly irritating and only interested in men. Maybe that would have been handled differently by a female author? Maybe I'm being too critical? And finally, the most compelling part of the story to me actually had little to nothing to do with the main storyline--the two lone chapters about Rotherman and Rudolph Hess. I suspect others will like this one more and I do think this will be a good selection for book groups, especially given the discussion guide at the back. I'll read more from Davies later but wanted this book to be something it wasn't.
Very interesting exploration of cowardice, pride, dislocation, and nationalism with well fleshed-out characters and vivid scenes. Jul 13, Lynette rated it liked it. May 07, Carl R. The Welsh Girl has been following me around. Even before I finished the book, I found myself thinking about it in the same way a tune runs unbidden through your brain.
A friend of mine has been highly infatuated with Davies ever since she met him in a workshop a few years ago. Nothing is wasted. Not a character, not a description, not a rumination. And it adds up to a beautiful whole. The Welsh girl in question is Esther Evans, a seventeen-year-old who feels stuck in her village but feels destined for a wider future.
Others see her as a potential globetrotter, too. The action begins just before D-Day, and in short order, the world comes to her before she has a chance to leave. Each of them, interestingly enough, has lost a parent. Each of them has a question of honor to settle. Each of them has at least one identity problem to deal with. Such dilemmas are shared by various of the less major characters as well. Putting the layers on the onion, the individual crises are reflected by questions of German, Welsh, English, and Jewish nationalism and cultural identity. I can attest to the continuing truth of the hostilities reflected in the book.
We even get to spend some time with Rudolf Hess, and the conversations with him provide both a psychological and an historical dimension that is not only interesting in itself but informs--even transforms--the thematic and dramatic texture of the novel. In fact, the interrogation scenes, especially those with Hess, carry such a load of philosophical and historical material so suggestive and challenging of thought and feeling that they bear a good deal of thought and discussion in and of themselves.
Thus does Davies masterfully mold macrocosmic chaos into a comprehensible artistic whole. We sometimes see the same events through different eyes. Sometimes we see one part of a story sequence through one pov, then the next part through another. One character leaves the book for over two hundred pages. I was anxious about where he was, relieved to see him return.
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Thus, not only is the action itself suspenseful, but the very structure of the book creates its own suspense in somewhat the same way a mountain creates its own weather. Davies spends a great deal of time in the minds of his characters, but every moment moves the story. Not so with The Welsh Girl.
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