I count Clare Dudman as one of my online friends. She is also a very fine writer. Her two previous novels “Wegener’s Jigsaw” and “98 Reasons For Being” are both very well worth reading, touching as they do on obscure Scientists, Alfred Wegener who spent the bulk of his life in pursuit of his theory on Continental Drift and Heinrich Hoffmann author of the classic children’s book Struwwelpeter and early psychiatric practitioner. Clare’s imaginative and well researched re-creations of these two men’s lives make fascinating reading.
In her new novel, “A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees”, Clare tackles the settlement of Welsh Argentina. The story tells of a group of Welsh colonists who driven to poverty in their home country accept passage to Argentina to become part of a new Welsh homeland. Based on historical fact, the description of the travails of main character, Silas James, along with his family and fellow settlers, is a moving story that engages the reader’s attention from the first chapter to the last.
Upon arrival on the shores of Patagonia, the promised new homeland is not up to expectations. Life is hard and the colony is almost abandoned as crops fail, and starvation threatens. The colonists are saved by contact with the native Tehuelche Indians. The Indians are given voice in the novel through the person of Yeluc, an elderly shaman whose thoughts on the new settlers and the Tehuelche way of life, are interspersed throughout the main story.
I whizzed through this novel over a weekend, utterly immersed in the landscape of Patagonia and the characters contending with it, as they strive to find a way of living, alternately tossed between tragedy and jubilation, disaster and progress.
A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lovely novel, which I highly recommend for a rich and rewarding reading experience. Check out the above link for more information, read an extract, and watch the movie Clare has painstakingly created to promote the novel.
In a way this novel reminded me of the story of my own paternal great great grandfather, who migrated to Australia from Somerset around the same time as Clare’s novel is set. I’ll write about that in another entry.