Bore da! To celebrate St David’s Day – I’m an eighth Welsh, so will admit a vested interest – a book that has been hailed as the ‘first Welsh classic of the 21st century’.
The author Angharad Price’s family has farmed in the Maesglasau valley for 1000 years. The Life of Rebecca Jones is an imagined narrative of the life of Angharad’s great aunt Rebecca, from her birth at the turn of the last century until her old age, based on the facts of the Jones family history: childhood experiences of books and school; work; love and heartbreak; and a tiny Welsh farming community’s engagement with the tumult of 20th century change.
Three of Rebecca’s siblings are afflicted by genetic blindness, and the chronicle of familial sacrifice (these siblings are taught at a special school and progress to university, whereas Rebecca, her brother Bob, and their bookish ambitions have to remain on the farm) and familial glory (the phenomenal achievements of these siblings is one of the most positive stories of disability I have ever read) makes this tale more than a mere lamentation for a Countryfile-esque past.
The first real ‘BOOM’ moment with this book arrived with the significant twist at the end which made me think deeply about the contrast between lives that are long and lives that are cut short. But the ‘MEGA-BOOM’ moment (technical literary term) came as I reflected on Price’s beautiful description of family:
What is family? An anchor which holds us in place. It holds us secure in a storm. It holds us back in fair weather. It is a blessing and a burden – for the young especially, and for those who seek freedom.
One of life’s astonishing moments is when we realise that we have suddenly become that anchor. This sudden shift is shocking and instantaneous. It is the shift of generations. We are flung without warning into the air, then plummet the depths of salt water. Then the anchor takes hold. Everything settles.
The real power of this slim book (it is just over 150 pages) lies in the way it makes us consider the ongoing shift of these ‘family anchors’ – which has happened in families all over the globe ever since the person who called the original cave woman ‘grandma’ flinched when a little person began to call them ‘grandma’ too – by recounting just one of the many shifts of Jones family anchors that occurred over their millennium of living in the Maesglasau valley. The anchors will continue to shift for all of us, but that is the nature – and joy – of life. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!