Davies tells his story through the eyes of three very different characters. Esther, a 17-year-old Welsh farm girl and part-time barmaid who lives with her father and the English city boy they’ve taken in, finds herself attracted to the English soldiers she came to know before they were banned from the pub that employs her. To her they represent the larger world she yearns to see and she finds it difficult to consider them an enemy. Karsten is a young German POW who cannot get over the shame that he feels for having surrendered rather than fighting his enemy to the death. He speaks English well enough to communicate with the group of young boys who spend hours taunting the prisoners from the other side of the fence. Finally, there is Rotheram, a British captain of German origin, and a Jew, whose father was a German World War I hero, and who is still ashamed that he and his mother fled
The Welsh Girl is a coming of age story for its two main characters. Esther’s world begins to come apart when she finds out the hard way that the English soldier she favors is not the honorable man she thought him to be. Ashamed to tell her anti-English father what has happened between them, she nonetheless finds herself reconsidering everything she thought she knew about the world. At the same time, Karsten believes that he has done a cowardly thing by surrendering himself and his men, and the only things that make him even momentarily forget his shame are the memory of the brief conversation he once had with Esther at the prison fence and his efforts to befriend her young boarder.
Peter Ho Davies has populated his isolated Welsh village with complex characters who find themselves fighting their own mini-version of a World War. Each of them has to define loyalty, prejudice and bravery in personal terms and in relation to the world that is tearing itself apart around them. When fate and circumstance briefly throw them together, two of those characters, Esther and Karsten, come to realize what is important and what is not.
This one is not to be missed.
Rated at: 4.0