The Welsh Girl

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-01-14
  • Publisher: Mariner Books

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Set in the stunning landscape of North Wales just after D-Day, Peter Ho Davies's profoundly moving first novel traces the intersection of disparate lives in wartime. When a POW camp is established near her village, seventeen-year-old barmaid Esther Evans finds herself strangely drawn to the camp and its forlorn captives. She is exploring the camp boundary when the astonishing occurs: Karsten, a young German corporal, calls out to her from behind the fence. From that moment on, the two foster a secret relationship that will ultimately put them both at risk. Meanwhile, another foreigner, the German-Jewish interrogator Rotherham, travels to Wales to investigate Britain's most notorious Nazi prisoner, Rudolf Hess. In this richly drawn and thought-provoking work, all will come to question where they belong and where their loyalties lie.

Author Biography

Peter Ho Davies is on the faculty of the graduate program in creative writing at the University of Michigan. His debut collection The Ugliest House in the World won the John Llewellyn Rhys and PEN/Macmillan awards in Britain. His second collection, Equal Love, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review for its “stories as deep and clear as myth.” It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. In 2003 Davies was named among the “Best of Young British Novelists” by Granta. The Welsh GIrl is his first novel. The son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother, Davies was raised in England and spent his summers in Wales. He is married and has one son.


Prologue: September 1944 OUTSIDE, THE TECHNICOLOR sunset is giving way to the silvery sweep of searchlights over distant Cardiff as a hand tugs the blackout curtain across the sky. There's a scraping of chairs, then the snap of a switch as the projector starts up. The room fills with the sharp chemical smell of acetate, the ionized stink of scorched dust. "Lights," Rotheram calls, and the lamps are extinguished. On the makeshift screen - a bed sheet tacked to the wall, ironed creases still visible - an image blooms, blurred at first, then twisted into focus. Clouds. Wispy, cotton-wool clouds slide across the screen, and then the camera dips beneath them, and there's the city, spread out like a map. The screen fills with gothic script, Triumph des Willens, and beneath it in shaky subtitles, Triumph of the Will. The watching men flicker in the reflected light. They're seated in a rough semicircle, a handful of dining chairs flanking a cracked leather armchair. Only the armchair faces the screen squarely. The men in the dining chairs are half turned from the film, looking back towards the projector, their eyes narrowed against its glare, studying the figure at their center. On the screen behind them, Adolf Hitler rides through the streets of Nuremberg in an open car. Crowds throng the side of the road, arms thrusting into the air, the salute rising and falling like a great wave. In the car the Fuhrer himself holds his arm up, not at the same sharp angle as the rest, but tipped back at the wrist, fingers slightly arched, as if balancing a silver salver. The screen dissolves to a shot of Hitler on a podium as a battalion of men, glinting spades on their shoulders, march past in powdery sunlight. Beside and a little behind him on the stage is a severely handsome man, slimmer and taller than the Fuhrer. In the next scene, this same figure is at a lectern, a glinting microphone before him, passionately exhorting the crowd. His hand saws the air; a shining lock of hair falls across his brow. He ends his speech crying "Sieg heil" over and over until the crowd rings with it. The reel runs out, and as the film is being changed a hand reaches out of the gloom and offers the figure in the armchair a cigarette. He fumbles it out of the pack and bows his head to take a light. There is the flash then flutter of flame, and in it his face is momentarily visible. Older, gaunter, and more disheveled, it is still recognizably the man from the screen: Rudolf Hess, former deputy fuhrer of the Third Reich. The film had been Rotheram's idea. He 'd seen it first in 1936 in Berlin, taking a tram across town to a cinema in a district where he didn't think anyone would know him, not telling his mother where he was going. She had been pressing for them to leave Germany for months by then, ever since his grandparents had fled to France the previous year. "But they're Jewish," he 'd told her, as if she might have overlooked the fact. "It's disgraceful how they've been hounded. But we aren't." His father, long dead, had been, but his mother was the daughter of German Lutherans, who'd settled in Canada and made a fortune in timber. They'd sent her back to the motherland to study in Gottingen, where she 'd met his father in 1912. In the eyes of Jews - the eyes of his father's family, say, who had spurned his marriage and supported his son and widow only from a distance - Rotheram wasn't one of them. Yet in the eyes of the Nazis he was. A mischling, at least: a half-Jew. He'd been dead set against leaving, even after seein

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