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Ffoi rhag y ffasgwyr - Myrddin ap Dafydd

(suggested) reading age: 12+

(suggested) interest age: 15+ (and adults)


‘Two fleeing Germany on the last train before the War – but what about the elder brother?’

From the wording and cover design, Ffoi rhag y Ffasgwyr (also available in English as ‘Fleeing the Fascists’) is presented as the story of a family fleeing Germany and Nazi oppression, but the inside cover describes it as: ‘A novel about Aberystwyth and Urdd Gobaith Cymru during and after the Second World War’. Beginning the novel I wasn’t sure what to expect – a story about the adventures of Steffan and his family, or a story about Aberystwyth and Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh youth movement? As it happens, we get two stories within the same book!

At the start of the novel we are given a cast list of the main characters – 13 of them. Also, a map of Aberystwyth’s town, showing the main locations of the novel. But the main characters of the story are the Steinmann family and his children, Steffan, Anton and Lotti. (Poor mum Berta barely gets a mention!). It is through the Steinmanns’ eyes that we are introduced to Wales on the cusp of the Second World War. It isn’t easy to sum up the plot, other than to say that it involves a family moving to Wales to start a new life, and the effect Urdd Gobaith Cymru has on them, Steffan in particular. But this is an over-simplification – there’s a lot going on within this brief novel.

It’s a novel which bounds confidently from one setting to another, weaving between characters, moving from the light-hearted to the intense. Sometimes it reads like a gripping adventure novel, at others it’s historical fiction.

There were truly nerve-wracking moments where I held my breath and shuddered. But there were also chapters where the story’s pace became leisurely, dawdled even. The mood of the book changes from chapter to chapter, which reminds me of the novels of Louis de Bernier’s (showing my age now – I remember the hype around Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!) in the way that the author is more like an observant camera, sweeping across the scene rather than narrowing focus on a single hero’s journey. The advantage of this is that room is given to things that would otherwise be ignored – the effects of polio, the racism and prejudice visible here in Wales, the founding of Welsh-medium education, and of course, the history of the Urdd. I enjoyed the glimpse at how ordinary people’s lives were affected by the war just as much as I enjoyed the more tense and gripping sections of the novel where Steffan was trying to escape Bielefeld. The ending is very clever in its reminder as to why this period in history and the Urdd’s mission remains to important, even today... but you’ll have to read the book to find out why!



Publisher: Carreg Gwalch

Released: Mai 2022

Price: £8.00

Format: paperback



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