The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies


Peter Ho Davies is Welsh and Chinese, and teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.  That the topic of national identity is central to the book is perhaps not surprising.  It is set in a small village near the coast of Wales during World War II.  The hatred of the Welsh for the English and the English feeling of superiority, the longing of Esther, the Welsh girl, to escape her limited provincial life, and the post-D-Day location of a POW camp for the Germans are the colliding bits in the story.  Perhaps the clearest statement of the absurdity of our "identities" came near the end of the book.  A German denied that he was Jewish because it was only his father, not his mother who was Jewish.  He was finally persuaded by his mother that it was time for them to leave Germany.  He visited the village in Wales several times on business for the English intelligence service and when challenged in the pub for "being one of them," assumed they were referring to his Jewishness, but of course, it was the English they hated.

This is a rich and dense book with a number of subplots that weave together well.  The horror of being captured —  feeling like cowards for having given up rather than dying, is explored by the POWs.  The German mentioned earlier interviews Hess, trying to determine whether he really lost his memory in the interest of trying him at Nuremburg.  Another subplot is the connection between one of the prisoners and a few people in the village, including Esther and the evacuated English child living with her family.

Long-listed for the Booker Prize.

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