Monday, February 8, 2010

The Welsh Girl - Peter Ho Davies



The Welsh Girl has been first and foremost, a surprise. Of the few books that I have read on the wars, Catch 22 included, this one dished up the unexpected in every turn. Peter Ho Davies's remarkable eye for detail conjures up wartime Wales so powerfully that one lives and breathes that tiny village, feels the empty hopelessness of Karsten's bunker in Normandy on D day, suffers along with Rotheram when he hurtles in that old car along those long winding roads and connects with Esther, the female protagonist on a completely different level.

Nothing is as it seems. True words aren't they? Reading The Welsh Girl this thought crossed my mind more than once. Even though the backdrop of the story is World War II, the author achieves his goal of making the reader almost forget the war at times. As if it were a far removed thing. So Rotheram felt. So Karsten felt. So Esther felt. The book focuses first and last on relationships forged and broken as a result of war. As the story progresses, the principal characters cease to exist in real wartime Europe. To them, the war seems like a distant pantomime, something they are not consciously connected to but at the same time, there is a sense of unease about the unknown. What will peace bring? What will defeat mean for Karsten, the frustrated Nazi prisoner of war? What does the war itself mean for Rotheram, the man who continually struggles for identity? Is he German? Is he Jewish? Or an exiled German Jew who became British? How does he deal with that sense of shame that clings to him that makes him deny vehemently his ancestry? How is the presence or absence of war going to change the disruption in Esther's life? What does it mean to her, when she is living in her own personal hell? What does she care? These are some of the questions the author handles with panache and helps you connect to what one might feel is the silly defensiveness of Rotheram, Karsten's eventual horror at having fought for that; Nazi Germany. And Esther, compromised Esther's struggle between necessity and conscience.

Inevitably, they care. The war directly or indirectly is the puppet master of their lives. Try as they may, through reason, choice or circumstance they circle back to it in a myriad subtle ways.

The Welsh Girl is not a heroic book. Great deeds are not done nor are great words spoken. Three very ordinary people are drawn together to one tiny village as the consequence of a far off war, one they fought for, fought against or simply stood by and watched. Their conflicts are no lesser than anyone else's. Their lives change forever, active participant or passive stander-by. And it all begins with the war.

A wonderfully direct take on just how the human heart knows to break barriers and feel and do things it could not have conceived before.

7 comments:

bikerguy said...

you know what, I believe there are 2 kinds of people in this world:
the ones who read to learn,
the other ones who read to learn, teach, educate, inspire....
you are definitely in the second category.
after reading this post, i was inspired to run to the nearest landmark store and pick up this book...your writing is very powerful girl...keep going :) :)

squall said...

You've convinced me to give it a try..

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Good, taut introduction to a book which seems promising. Relationships at the time of war is a fascinating subject. It is about the inner world of men and women when the world outside is going through cataclysmic changes. Have added the name and the author's name to a long list of books that I would like to read.

You write very well, Vaishnavi. Congrats!

Sathej said...

Nice start :) Keep writing..looking forward to your perspectives on books, writers et al :) Haven't read this one, seems interesting..

Sathej

Pavithra said...

Lol..Correct me if I'm wrong,All I can say is, you better make some kinda of a career with this wonderful,fabulous stuff that you've got:) I sincerely hope you'll rock!! The narration looks perfect:)

Kaushik Chatterjee said...

Lovely introduction. Your words so subtly, poignantly measure up to the thoughts, emotions welling up your mind and even a casual reader can take a happy ride with you in the journey to explore, feel and breathe life, its rawness, comicality and all.....

Yes, Santanu da, it's a genuine prodder for even a relatively unreading kind like me and I'm with you to warmly wish more power to Vaishnavi's elbow!

Vaishnavi said...

@avi - I am quite sure I don't do all of those things, I am just a person who loves to read more than she likes to do most things :)

@Squall - I am glad I did, it is a good book. Do come back :)

@Mr. Chaudhuri - Thank you very much for your wishes, I am sure you will like this book, it is especially a little anti-climatic in the end, I hope I am able to write about good books here :)

@Sathej - Thanks for dropping in, I am looking out for what kind of perspective I'll turn out to give myself :)

@Pavi - I hope and wish it were so. Fingers crossed :)

@Mr.Chatterjee - Welcome to the Dust Jacket and thank you very much :) You should try the book, it very good. Hope I write good stuff after this too :)