Top critical review
Flawed Tribute to an Adventurous Young Welshman
on 30 June 2015
Gruff Rhys is a musician who decided that, during a tour of the US in 2012, he would follow the route of a Welshman called John Evans who, in 1792, had tried to track down Welsh-speaking Indians living on the Great Plains.
These were supposed to have been descendants of the Welsh prince Madog who "discovered" America in 1170.
Evans spent about seven years in American and, although he never found his Welsh Indians, he made a great contribution to mapping much of which was virgin territory* before dying in New Orleans.
Rhys traveled around the Midwest, accompanied by a three foot ventriloquist doll-like replica of Evans made of felt, and describes the places and the many people he met.
Not one of them was a Welsh-speaking Indian, of course, but then again Rhys had never really expected to encounter any.
For me, this is the main drawback to this book. Rhys himself is a Welsh speaker and proud of his countryman's achievements but by making lame remarks and lighthearted asides, he spoils what could have been a better tribute.
He insults his own country by quoting the last of the Mandan speakers, the language Evans had thought might be Welsh, who says: "I've never heard of Wales, makes me think of those big sea creatures".
He also ignores the political side of Evans who ended up being commissioned, along with a Scotsman called MacKay, to work in the service of the Spanish governor of Louisiana and prevent the British from moving down from Canada and exploiting the territory.
This would have been an interesting angle to follow up especially at a time when Scotland and Wales are gaining more power as the present British state starts to crumble.
Nevertheless, it was quite a good read. It is also the first time I've read a book and followed it as a film with a soundtrack via YouTube.
*Rhys claims these maps were later used by the Lewis and Clark expedition.