What does Rudolf Hess have to do with Wales? Turns out he was interned in that wild country during World War II after having escaped from Germany. The Welsh Girl opens with an anglo-German soldier attempting to discern whether or not Hess is feigning the amnesia that prevents him from remembering anything about the Nazis. This strange wooing – Rotheram is part Jewish, Hess may or may not be nuts – parallels the courtship between the appealing Karsten, a German who surrendered to the English on a Norman beach on D Day, and Esther, a sheep-farmer’s daughter. Karsten is interned in the POW camp that abuts Esther’s father’s land.
There’s a lot about loyalty here, and identity, and belonging or not-belonging, and honor, and otherness, and the necessity to make your own way when the usual signposts have vanished. Davies (it’s a Welsh name) evokes the landscape and the closed community brilliantly: it’s like the weird Testimonies by Patrick O’Brian. Davies points out how language is a bridge or a gate, as his bilingual, bicultural, confused characters pick their way through a series of dramatic moral dilemmas. This book was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and it’s easy to see why.