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A sense of place
on 4 November 2010
Before reading Clare Dudman's new novel, A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees, I was only vaguely aware of a Welsh presence in Patagonia. I knew, in a Trivial Pursuits kind of way, that there was a pocket of Welsh speaking down there in South America, and I had the bizarre fictional images from Malcolm Pryce's wonderful noir detective stories set in a fantasy Aberystwyth (like Abertystwyth, Mon Amour), where Patagonia is frequently referred to as the Welsh equivalent of Vietnam, with war veterans cropping up in the stories now and again. But I knew nothing of the real nineteenth century attempt to colonize part of Patagonia.
Although the book is a novel it really does capture the historical context beautifully - you can feel the hardship of reaching the place, only to discover that the promised meadows and tall trees are actually scrubland and bare earth. The colonists battle against remarkable odds, losing loved ones and nearly starving. The author is always wonderful at giving us a feel of what it's like to live in a different environment, and I've never seen it done better. Lyrical and informative in equal parts, this is a novel that a non-fiction reader can appreciate for its descriptive content while still giving flight to the imagination and good development of characters that the reader cares about. Recommended.