Twm Miall, |
(Y Lolfa, 1988)
The Welsh-speaking communities of Wales are under threat but continue to produce great literature as they have since the time of Aneirin and Taliesin through Dafydd ap Gwilym down to the 20th century's Kate Roberts and Caradog Pritchard. Among the most gifted novelists writing in Wales today is the Meirionydd native Twm Miall.
This classic Welsh-language novel, a Celtic Catcher in the Rye, is the story of Bleddyn, a teenager growing up in a nameless North Wales town (probably Blaenau Ffestiniog). Sure, Bleddyn drinks a bit too much, but who doesn't? He's also interested in poetry, novels and, of course, young women. He gets in a bit of trouble, has some fun at the expense of credulous tourists, drives the local minister crazy and runs up hard against the local anti-Welsh establishment.
To the dismay of his parents, he's not too interested in his own formal education but, instead, becomes thick with his ne-er do well uncle Dic, who entertains him with sea stories, beer and Welsh poetry. Finally, to appease his parents, Bleddyn gets a job as a painter, where he has more antics working on a council estate in a nearby town, with Sam Owen and sons Raymond, Desmond and Osmond.
The story is written in a spicy, colloquial Welsh, and the attitudes and atmosphere of a depressed small town are captured well by Miall.
One of Miall's cleverest tricks is to use Welsh phonetics when a Welsh native speaker is speaking English. Thus his friends Dai and Huwsyn passing off a piece of useless junk as an antique from Owain Glyndwr's time: "If iw 'f rili set iwar hart on it, ffortin cwid, tw peint, and tw dybyl wisgi." (trans. "If you've really set your heart on it, fourteen quid, two pints, and two double whiskys.")
Bleddyn's adventures are entertaining, but somehow emblematic as well. His small town life is frustrating, but his attachment to the place is strong.
Bleddyn later reappears, living in Cardiff, in the sequel Cyw Dol, where he experiences a bit of culture shock in Anglicized Wales. Both books are worth a read, if you can, and worthy of translation.
by David Cox