Our Boston Chapter of the William & Mary Alumni Society book club selected The Welsh Girl (2007) by Peter Ho Davies for our April reading. From the dust jacket summary, I gathered this was a romance between a German POW and a local girl and figured this was a remake of Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, required reading in Junior High School.
Luckily, it’s a bit more complex than that. The Welsh Girl basically intertwines the stories of three people in WWII Wales. First, there’s Rotherham a refugee from Germany, not Jewish himself but with Jewish ancestry, who becomes an interogator for the British and comes to Wales to take a crack at Rudolf Hess. Then, there’s Esther a teenage girl who lives on her fathers sheep farm and pulls pints at the local pub. Finally, there’s Karsten, a handsome German soldier who to his shame is among the first to surrender on D-Day. The three characters do not actually interact with one another for the majority of the book, so what we have three stories wound together around similar themes: a sense of belonging, identity (both personal and national), and feeling caged-in (both literally and metaphorically).
Unfortunately, The Welsh Girl is a rather dull book. The Welsh scenery and cast of supporting characters lend a great texture to the story, but Davies appears to reserved to really let us into the minds of his characters. Thus things just seem to turn out too pat and convenient for the plot. The conclusion is particularly disappointing as it has Rotherham basically providing a distant epilogue for Esther and Kartsen. A nice read for its place and time, but definitely a novel that could use some re-writing.