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A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees

Clare Dudman
ISBN-13: 
9781854115188
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 14, 2010
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Impoverished and oppressed, they’d been promised paradise on earth: a land flowing with milk and honey. But what the settlers found after a devastating sea journey was a cold South American desert where nothing could survive except tribes of nomadic Tehuelche Indians, possibly intent on massacring them.

Silas James fears he has been tricked into sacrificing everything he loves for another man’s impossible dream. But despite his hatred of the politically adept Edwyn Owen, and under the watchful eye of Indian shaman Yelue, a new culture takes root as an old one passes away.

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lyrical and insightful evocation of the trials of the first Welsh Patagonian colonists as they battle to survive hunger, loss, and each other.

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Review from The Historical Novels Review

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The Welsh heritage of Patagonia is one of the more celebrated quirks of colonial history which first came to my attention, and, I suspect, that of many others through Bruce Chatwin’s curious and beautiful In Patagonia. This novel is inspired by, and closely based on, the history of the settlement of Rawson, on Patagonia’s Atlantic coast, in the 1860s. It follows the fortunes of Silas and Megan Jones and their family and fellow colonists from their arrival in Argentina, but also makes good use of flashbacks to show their courtship and marriage, their sufferings en route to the new colony and their reasons for undertaking the journey. Silas’ complex and confrontational relationship with Edwyn Lloyd, the charismatic founder of the colony, powers the narrative and provides much of its dramatic tension, although the catalogue of droughts, floods and illnesses which dog the colony mean this tension rarely lets up.

Dudman writes beautifully, not just about the colonists but about the land in which they find themselves and the indigenous Tehuelche people with whom they share it. Running alongside the narrative of colonisation are lyrical passages in the voice of Yeluc, a Tehuelche shaman who befriends the settlers and helps them to survive. Ironically, just as the Welsh leave Wales in order to preserve their language and culture from the English, their eventual success in Patagonia wiped out the Tehuelche language and culture completely, a point which Dudman makes subtly in the way she constructs her novel.

A thought-provoking book, driven by powerful characterisation and profound reflection on the process of colonisation.

Sarah Bower - The Historical Novels Review

09/09/2011 - 09:25
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Review by Buzz Magazine

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An intensely moving novel based on stories about the trails and triumphs of nineteenth-century Welsh immigrants attempting to set up a Welsh-speaking colony in Patagonia. The protagonist Silas James is a character you instantly connect with, and the in-depth descriptions make you feel as though you are sitting in the Patagonian desert. A word of caution: this storry is filled with tragedy, so have your tissues at the ready,

09/09/2010 - 15:20
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Review from Writing Life Blog

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I was completely carried away and overwhelmed..(.).This narrative about the Welsh colonists of Patagonia would be a ripping yarn, as they say, in the hands of any competent writer. It has danger, dashed dreams, fears, jealousies, romance -- everything you could want in a novel. But in the hands of the calibre of Dudman, this has become much, much more.

Sue Guiney Writing Life

23/07/2010 - 20:12
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Review from Now Appearing Blog

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Although the book is a novel it really does capture the historical contact beautifully - you can feel the hardship of reaching place, only to discover that the promised land meadows and tall trees are actually scrubland and bare earth. 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.

Brian Clegg, Now Appearing

23/07/2010 - 20:11
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Review from Cat Politics Blog

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A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees is a lovely novel, which I highly recommend for a rich and rewarding experience.

Anne Sydenham, Cat Politics

23/07/2010 - 20:10
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Review from Bookmunch

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Full of finely drawn characters.... Clare Dudman pulls the reader into their lives until the hardship and misery they experience is practically palpable. A work of fiction that is all her own.... Her extensive research gives the novel an air of urgency and realism that makes it a gripping read. Carola Huttmann, Bookmunch

12/07/2010 - 10:39
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Jimmy4559

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This is a good book...an engrossing book. I feel the book’s strength lies in its portrayal of real people. It focuses on identity, national identity on the surface, but once you start to dig a little deeper there are other identities under the microscope here and the old Indian provides an excellent sounding board, not that he doesn’t have his own identity issues which he deals with in his own way. I grew rather fond of old Yeluc and would have liked more of him.

 

You can read a detailed review of this title on Jim Murdoch's blog: http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2010/06/place-of-meadows-and-tall-trees....

21/06/2010 - 18:21
Anonymous's picture

Review from The Western Mail/Wales Online

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This powerful work of fiction tells like no historical account possibly could of the trials faced by the mostly desperate Welsh who sailed for Patagonia to found a new Wales, Y Wladfa – and the native Americans whose lives also changed forever. Fiction it may be, but Dudman has, in her own words, “taken the bare bones of the lives of various people that were part of that first, courageous settlement and invented their flesh”. Before that, she travelled across Patagonia in a bus, talked to descendents of the first settlers and took intensive courses in Welsh and shamanism. Her inventions feature fine character portrayals, like the elegant, talkative, trilingual Edwyn Lloyd, the expedition leader, based loosely on Lewis Jones, the Caernarfon printer whose pioneering work on the railway was recognised when the town at the railhead was named Trelew in his honour. The railway came years after the expedition fictionalised here. The year is 1865 and the novel centres on settler Silas James, who travels with his heavily pregnant wife Megan and their children after being evicted from their tenant farm in Wales. Fiction and imagination are all we have to understand what it must have been like for them to travel in hope towards a dream world, lose a son on a long hard voyage and arrive to find a cold barren windswept desert. Dreams are strange too, and take unexpected directions. Award-winning novelist Dudman has written another powerful contender for honours with this atmospheric, lyrical page-turner, enriched by the character Yeluc, the shaman son of an Indian chief. His view of the settlers is given added intensity by use of the first person singular. This story of the settlers’ struggle to survive is uncompromising, but laced with hope.

Steve Dube, The Western Mail, 5th June 2010

15/06/2010 - 09:26