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Book 25: Great Britain: Wales (English) – How Green was my Valley (Richard LLEWELLYN)


This is a delicious family saga set in a coal mining town which is being gradually buried by the mountain of slag produced by its lifeblood, and the simultaneous encroachment of English civilisation. There are some laugh-out-loud moments (I particularly loved Mother’s taking her son’s school maths exercises too literally!). The language is lush and lyrical, and gave me a strong feeling of what Welsh must be like. The centrality of song to the Welsh comes through his description of a nightingale:

               ”A good big chest full of breath, him, and a chest to hold it, too, and up with his head, and open with his mouth, thinking it no shame to sing with the voice that God gave to him, and singing with tone, with a trill and a tremolo to make you frozen with wonderment to hear. A little bird, he is, with no colour to his feathers, and no airs with him, either, but with a voice that a king might envy, and yet he asks for nothing, only room to sing. No howling, no scrapes, no bending of the knee, or fat fees for Mr Nightingale.”


The town is under threat both physically and sociologically as the mine owners try to squeeze the coal workers’ wages, provoking a response in unionism and socialism, and a counter-response. But the workers are seemingly willing prisoners of a harsh and apparently doomed way of life, at the mercy of outsiders. A lovely book, and I regret that it sat unread on my bookshelf for so long (my copy is so old that it seems to have no ISBN!)


LLEWELLYN, Richard (1906 – 1983), How Green was my Valley, London: New English Library, 1978 (originally 1939)