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Growing up in a mining community in rural South Wales, Huw Morgan is taught many harsh lessons - at the kitchen table, at Chapel and around the pit-head. Looking back on the hardships of his early life, where difficult days are faced with courage but the valleys swell with the sound of Welsh voices, it becomes clear that there is nowhere so green as the landscape of his own memory. An immediate bestseller on publication in 1939, How Green Was My Valley quickly became one of the best-loved novels of the twentieth century. Poetic and nostalgic, it is an elegy to a lost world.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

A powerful novel

The story is set at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth in a Welsh mining village. The activity of the village is very connected to the mine and at the start of the book when the narrator Huw Morgan is very young all is well with the tight knit community. Those working in the mines bring home a good wage and the community polices itself and looks after its own. Huw looks from outside as an observer, especially after he has an accident which leaves him bed-bound in the alcove bed in the family kitchen.

What he observes is the deterioration of all he loves because of the decreasing price of coal. The fall in the wages of the men results in the beginning of collective action. There are strikes and unrest. People are victimised and there is unfairness. Outside police and strike-breakers come into the valley. Huw’s many brothers react in different ways to what is happening and we see their stories as well as those of their wives. Mistrust and closed minds cause anguish and discrimination. The English are the enemy trying to force the locals to abandon their sense of identity and language as Welsh people and there are some Welsh who feel embarrassed to be seen as backward. The greenness of the valley becomes tarnished by the growth of slag heaps, building up behind the houses and threatening them.

The book is written in the first person and the writing has a Welsh lilt about it because of the way that the sentences are constructed and the words are used. It’s not too much for the reader but it gives an authentic tone to the novel. Huw is looking back on his life from a time in which he is aged in his mid-sixties and he sees the time of his youth as a golden one for the miners and their community. In the past the valley was green and beautiful and so were the lives of its people. It’s a simplistic view and the events of the novel actually prove differently but as the sense of community fades and his family is scattered around the world you can see why it has a golden glow to it. The author doesn’t idealise the time or the people – there is always danger in mining coal and always trouble in any close and isolated community but he clearly shows how there is the need for the people to take action to assert their rights and claim their livelihood but that in doing that there is also danger of victimisation and also of people using what power they have inappropriately.

This is a powerful novel which was better known in the past – I think there was a TV adaptation. It’s worth reading though and although it is intense it is not particularly complex.

 
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