"How Green Was My Valley" is Richard Llewellyn's bestselling--and timeless--classic and the basis of a beloved film. As Huw Morgan is about to leave home forever, he reminisces about the golden days of his youth when South Wales still prospered, when coal dust had not yet blackened the valley. Drawn simply and lovingly, with a crisp Welsh humor, Llewellyn's characters fight, love, laugh and cry, creating an indelible portrait of a people.
This is one of those books I've heard of all my life but never read. Mostly because I had no idea what it was about and because I was afraid that since it was a classic, it would be horribly depressing. But I decided to pick it up last time I was at the library. And I'm glad I did.
When I read the summary before I started the book, I was like, "Well, that's vague. It doesn't tell me anything about the book." But since finishing it, I can attest that's actually a fairly accurate summary. The book's a collection of Huw's memories from his youth, tied together by the backdrop of the rise of a coal miners' union in his town.
There's so much I want to talk about with this book, but I'll limit myself to two things. First, I LOVE the strength of Llewellyn's female characters, especially Huw's mother, Beth, and his sister-in-law Bronwen. As Huw tells story after story about growing up, the underlying current to almost all of them is the quiet power women have to hold the family together and to take the lot that's given them and make it something good. The scene where Huw's mother crashes a union meeting to take all those men to task for threatening her husband behind his back gave me shivers. And Bronwen--I love Bronwen. She provides Huw with constant love and support but takes him to task when he unintentionally, or intentionally, does or says things that he shouldn't. Like Huw says, "So Bronwen showed me more of the strength of woman, which is stronger than fists and muscles and male shoutings."
The second thing is the sheer beauty of the language of the book. It's full of Welsh rhythms and speech patterns, and wit as well as serious observations. I can't do it justice by describing it, so I'll give you my favorite part of the book, when Huw's sister gets her head stuck in the window:
Angharad put her head in the window and Davy pretended to punch, and she shouted because her head was fast in the small space and her hair falling about her, making it worse.See? The language is just so amazing.
"Mr. Gruffydd is in the house," she shouted, and the boys trying to pull her head out. "Will you crack my skull, David Morgan?"
"Too hard," Davy said. "Only a girl would put her old head in such a little place. Is there a door or are you blind?"
"I was looking through the window, fool," Angharad said. "Would I see anything through a door?"
"Your nose will have you in the toils, young woman," my father said. "Break the window and take it from her pin money."
"O, Dada," Angharad said, trying to look through her hair, and trying hard to cry, but laughing instead, "there is nasty you are to me. These old boys can do what they like but we shall have nothing only hard words and take it from her pin money. Huw has had more punches than I have had for six weeks. I wish I had been born an old boy. I would have punches all day, indeed."
"Leave her there," my father said, "and let her think over what she has said."
So poor Angharad was left with her head in the window, trying to cry, but laughing instead, and Davy pinched her bottom as he passed, but he got such a kick that he was limping all night with him.
And one last thing I'll mention to recommend the book: it wasn't nearly as depressing as I thought it was going to be . . .
Rating: 4 / 5