cover image A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child's Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $70 (63pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1315-8

By the time the story opens, Levin's mill is gone. Even Levin himself isn't much in evidence, being mostly a cipher at the center of a sharply funny look at provincial prejudice. The background is as important as the narrative: in the area that has variously been West Prussia, Poland, Livonia and, in 1874, part of Germany, the long history of national mixing has caused a sort of tetchy ethnic paranoia. ""The Poles are all blue-blooded, and the Germans, who were Polish but have now been or considered themselves to be German for as many generations as they can muster, are, if possible, even more so."" The Germans are divided among themselves with Baptists, Protestants, Adventists, Sabbatarians and Methodists all living in wary proximity, but that doesn't prevent the narrator's miller grandfather from appealing to a greater pan-German good to destroy his Jewish rival's mill. Offsetting the grandfather's gang is a loose confederacy of wanderers and outcasts--a circus troupe, the Gypsies Habedank and Marie, the painter Philippi and, above all, the singer Weiszmantel, who speaks a ""confused mixture of German and Polish"" but who sings the truth. Bobrowski, who was born in this area of West Prussia in 1917 and died in 1965, requires some work: scene cuts to scene with few transitions and a confusing reference may not become clear until many pages later. Attentive readers will, however, be rewarded with a story that is as deeply tender as it is wickedly amusing. (Apr.)