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Saturday 4th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Paul Simon reviews A Welsh Dawn by Gareth Thomas

A Welsh Dawn by Gareth Thomas (Y Lolfa, £ 9.95)

by Paul Simon

Gareth Thomas’s A Welsh Dawn is set in the late 1950s during a period of Wales’s emerging rejuvenation as a distinctive political force, with nationalist and socialist opposition to London combining together and growing in potency.

Author Gareth Thomas explores this rising confidence and the duplicitous Establishment response to it on two different but mirrored levels.

From the wide-angled perspective, he explores the patient but herculean efforts of the Council of Wales to persuade the Tory administrations of Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan to accord Wales some measure of limited autonomy.

The fight for the Welsh nation’s control over some aspects of its people’s lives is galvanised by Parliament’s approval to flood an entire village and its surrounding farmland to supply water to the Labour-controlled Liverpool Corporation led by Bessie Braddock.

Their lack of solidarity and empathy with those affected shows that it wasn’t just English Tories who were the problem.

The author goes to great pains to incorporate all of the major players on both sides of this protracted political battlefield, combining their actual recorded words with imagined conversations true to their known respective values and personae. All the exchanges are believable and not dragged down by heavy-handed verisimilitude.

So we encounter the authoritative trade unionist Huw T Edwards, Welsh Labour MPs such as Goronwy Roberts and Cledwyn Hughes, torn between party loyalty and their empathy for the rising aspirations of their constituents, as well as Plaid Cymru greats such as Gwynfor Evans and Emrys Roberts.

Thomas seems to garner most pleasure, though, from the portraits of their bourgeois foes, the faux-simple but utterly underhanded Tory prime minister Macmillan, the slimy but avuncular Henry Brooke and their whole ghastly and elitist Civil Service.

On the personal level, the book considers how these tensions and hopes play out in the fictional person of Ifan, a young man from a small village near Caernarfon. To the annoyance of his ambitious mother, Ifan opts to read Welsh at Bangor University, where his consciousness is raised by encounters with both local and overseas students fighting imperialism.

Slowly, as the extent of English delaying tactics becomes clear both in terms of saving the threatened village and the wider political demands, Ifan is drawn towards more direct action.

Overlapping the narratives of the political giants on the one hand and Ifan and his family and friends on the other is the persona of Dafydd Williams, an engaging socialist lawyer, visionary and Mayor of Caernarfon, who quite literally works himself to death in the service of his people.

It is in Williams that the author provides us with the epitome of, and a tribute to, those hundreds and thousands of working-class Welsh whose determination subsequently won them greater control over their own affairs.

A Welsh Dawn is yet another quality novel from the always excellent Y Lolfa, which has established itself as a publisher of works that are deeply Welsh but which also resonate far beyond that nation’s geographical and cultural boundaries.

Paul Simon