The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price
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|The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: A heartfelt account of family life in the Welsh Valleys, seen through the eyes of the Great-Aunt of the author.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: March 2014|
|Publisher: Maclehose Press|
|External links: Author's website|
A newly-married couple make their way home from the chapel, riding on a horse-drawn cart as it winds its way round familiar country lanes towards the beautiful valley of Maesglasau. The horse pauses atop a hill and the valley spreads out before them: 'the vessel of their marriage'. The centuries-old stone farmhouse in the crook of the mountain is to be their homestead; a sturdy, silent witness to the tragedy and joy that is an intrinsic part of the fabric of family life.
So begins the story of the 'Life of Rebecca Jones', the firstborn daughter of the couple mentioned in the outset. Rebecca Jones was the Great-Aunt of the author, Angharad Price and she does a remarkable job of recreating the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life in the valleys at the turn of the century. This is a forgotten way of life; a world where mothers would rise early to polish the hearth, sweep the floors, prepare food for the family, scrub and iron the clothes, bake bread and churn butter. In addition to this, she would also have her tasks on the farm to perform, as well as caring for her children and making clothes. There were no modern conveniences and men were not expected to help; they had their own work to do.
In spite of this harsh way of life, Rebecca has a happy childhood and dreams of being a nurse when she grows up. Her brother Bob wants to be a doctor. Sadly, their dreams are shattered with the arrival of their younger brothers, who are born blind and have to be sent to a specialist school, meaning that there is no money left for Bob and Rebecca to be educated beyond the village school. Reluctantly, Bob settles into life as a farmer, whilst Rebecca stays at home and helps her mother with the running of the home.
Time passes and with it brings a fair share of tragedy to the family. It is easy to forget that not so long ago, childhood diseases were killers and it was not unusual for a family to lose one or more children to diseases such as diphtheria. Valley life is constantly changing, and the blind Jones brothers become local celebrities due to their amazing academic accomplishments, even becoming the subject of a short documentary in the early days of the BBC. Technology brings more changes to the valley and Rebecca sees the tradition way of life erode and vanish before her eyes, powerless to stop it.
The Life of Rebecca Jones is a beautifully written book, translated from the original Welsh by Lloyd Jones. The prose is absorbing and poetic, with many references to the hymns and poetry of Hugh Jones. There is great depth to the narrative and the author uses descriptions of the natural world, such as the stream that runs through Maesglasau, as a metaphor for events in Rebecca’s life. The text is also beautifully complemented by photographs of the family, including a beautiful portrait of Rebecca, her parents and young brothers.
The book lulls the reader in with its gentle, evocative descriptions of life in the cwm, but this is story with a sting in the tale; in the form of a short paragraph on the final page. The shock ending to the story will reverberate long after the book is finished. This is a deceptively simple story with hidden depths and an understated power. No wonder then, that it has been hailed as a modern classic; an accolade well earned.
If you are interested in Welsh History, try Of Boys, Men and Mountains - Life in the Rhondda Valley by Roy Tomkinson, an account of life in the Welsh mining community.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price at Amazon.com.
The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price is in the Top Ten Biographies 2014.
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