The Welsh Girl
Peter Ho Davies
Houghton Mifflin, January 2007
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2007
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 question the meaning of love, family, loyalty, and national identity. The consequences 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.
"The Welsh Girl is a distinguished, beautifully written example of a small but enduring genre... it tells of those who, presented with history's lined paper, write the other way. ... A scintillating instance of fictional imagination applied to history."
-New York Times
"An ambitious, layered meditation on what it means to be from a particular place...Davies's achievement is significant."
-New York Times Book Review
"A tour de force."
"Peter Ho Davies, whose short stories over the past decade have demonstrated his quicksilver brilliance with the material of ordinary lives, has at last taken the plunge and produced a novel. Sentence by sentence, character by character, scene by scene, it's one of the best of the winter."
"A painstakingly precise portrait of cultures colliding...[with] a moody authority reminiscent of another age."
"[Davies's] first novel manages to tap the most troubling paradoxes of community and individuality, of loyalty and love."
-San Francisco Chronicle
"Quietly powerful...It is the skill with which [Davies] investigates inner lives, making thoughts and the ways in which they develop entirely plausible, that confirms The Welsh Girl as a fine piece of work...an affecting work of fiction."
-Times Literary Supplement (London, UK)
"The prose is clear and quiet, full of small, piquant observations...a deeply felt and vividly imagined novel."
-London Telegraph (UK)
"Ho Davies charts his characters' feelings with a mesmeric precision that demands slow reading, but creates a sometimes startling level of intimacy between reader and character...the novel has depth and power."
-New Statesman (UK)
"The binding of people and place, and the uneasiness caused when these two entities are separated is a core theme, driving Davies to a satisfying but unpredictable conclusion. His style is his strength, drawing on a subtle vividness to paint a Technicolor image of wartime Britain...epic, lucid, and compelling."
-The Big Issue (UK)
"A beautifully realized first novel... We know and understand Davies' characters; their humanity is ours; their story is everyone's story. This novel will haunt the reader long after closing the book."
"A brooding and poignant first novel... Like a pleasing aftertaste, the payoff lingers, its implications coming to you long after, the toll of a sonorous bell marking the time in some remote place where the world, in spite of all its madness, still works."
"This book is a rare gem. A novel at once deeply compelling and utterly uncompromising, The Welsh Girl beautifully conjures a place and its people in an extraordinary time. Moreover, Peter Ho Davies writes prose of luminous clarity-- each sentence is a pleasure."
"The Welsh Girl is a beautiful, ambitious novel that takes the reader into the most personal corner of war. [It is] emotionally resonant and perfectly rendered. I believed in every character, every sheep, every last blade of grass."
"A memorable writer of sinewy intelligence."
"In this skilled, beautifully empathetic novel, the intersection of English troops, German POWs, and Welsh families with their flocks yields surprising insights into what it means to have a home territory. Peter Ho Davies is a wonderful writer."
"In The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies employs an elegant, cinematic prose to travel in time back to the Second World War. This is a deeply felt, deeply imagined novel, and its characters remain a presence after the book is closed in the way that one walks off from an opera, still hearing the melodies."
"A writer to be on the look for."
"Davies's sense of place and character is exemplary, and the prose is a joy to read."