Set in North Wales just after D-Day, this novel weaves together the stories of three people who are all struggling with the ways in which the war has made them question their identity. Esther is the eponymous Welsh girl who works as a barmaid but dreams of life outside her tiny village. When an English soldier takes advantage of her, Esther has to face her future and determine what kind of woman she will become. Karsten is a young German soldier who has surrendered to the English and must now live with the shame of being a coward; as he sees the Allies reclaim more and more of Europe, he also questions his belief in German supremacy. Meanwhile, Rotheram is a German man with a Jewish father who fled Germany in the early days of the war. He now works as a translator for the British and interrogates German prisoners, but he is conflicted about where his loyalties truly lie.
Lately I’ve been really interested in books that are set during World War II, so I had high hopes for this novel. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations, which is largely the fault of the cover blurb. I thought the book would mostly focus on the relationship between Esther and Karsten and the obstacles they’d have to face being on opposite sides of a war. But while a relationship does grow between them, it doesn’t actually happen until well after the halfway point of the novel. Most of the book is just setting up the conflict, as Esther’s background, the Welsh attitude toward the war, and Karsten’s military career are described in plodding detail. I wouldn’t actually call the book romantic at all — which is not a problem, except that the blurb led me to believe otherwise! I do think that the novel raises some interesting thoughts relating to World War II and war in general, so it was probably worth reading for those insights. (There was also a line near the end of the book about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen that got me right in the gut.) But overall, although I wanted to like this book, it just didn’t do anything for me.