4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
How can somewhere that you have never visited feel like home immediately? It can and it does. For Pamela Petro, this happened the first time that she visited Wales to study for a Master’s Degree at a university English Department. She knew almost nothing about the place or the country or its particular and unique history, culture and especially its language. But she felt at home in this place. On returning to America, her family there wondered if the infatuation with Wales would fade over time.
The was her first physical experience of the Welsh word, hiraeth. She had discovered it before when looking at a bilingual poster, on the English section the word was repeated in italics and she asked her friend, Andy why it hadn’t been translated. He replied saying that it couldn’t be translated. It would be a while before she would come to know the meaning herself, even though she had come across the inadequate ‘homesickness’ as an explanation. A close definition, if you could call it that, is the sense of being out of one’s home place.
The longer she was away, the greater the longing to be back there.
This multi-layered memoir is her exploration of her inner self and the feelings she has towards what has become her adopted country. But there is much more to this than just Wales, it is also about her parents, the train accident that nearly killed her, of her sexuality and long term partner, Marguerite, her teaching and her writing and travels for her book on the Welsh language. But this is mostly about Wales, how the people and their outlook have helped define who she is, the inevitable rain and relishing a sunny day and driving the slow and twisting roads to the coast.
She has a wonderful way with words in this book, managing to capture perfectly that first time that she knew that the landscape, people and language of Wales had for some reason always had a place in her heart. Even though the elusive meaning of hiraeth is very difficult to explain, what Petro does with this book is to tease out the multiple threads of meaning that this word has for her and how she has always sought it on her many trips to Wales. I am not sure I can explain it either, but I know when we moved from Surrey to Dorset, I felt a connection to this place that I didn’t have in Surrey. The is the first of Petro’s books that I have read, even though I have had Travels in An Old Tongue on my bookshelves at home for quite a while I have never got to read it. I am going to have to rectify that soon.