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Bibliographical Information
Gwalia Patagonia
Jon Gower
ISBN: 9781848518841 (1848518846)Publication Date: March 2015
Publisher: Gomer@Lolfa
Format: Paperback, 240x165 mm, 264 pages Language: English Out of print Our Price: £14.99   
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A book celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Welsh emigration to Patagonia, a signal moment in the history of Wales and Argentina. Jon Gower traces the steps of the first Welsh settlers in a bleak and cruel land, and hears how their 21st-century descendants view their history and a homeland they have never seen.

Cyfrol Saesneg yn dathlu 150 mlynedd ers glaniad y Cymry ym Mhatagonia, digwyddiad nodedig yn hanes Cymru a'r Ariannin. Ynddi, mae Jon Gower yn olrhain camau cyntaf y Cymry mewn anialdir creulon, ac yn cofnodi teimladau eu disgynyddion yn yr unfed ganrif ar hugain am hanes eu pobl ac am y famwlad na welsant erioed.
Jon Gower is one of our greatest literary talents – a rarity among authors who is equally successful writing in Welsh or English, and in both factual and creative genres. His latest offering, Gwalia Patagonia, which tells the familiar tale of the Welsh colony in Argentina, established 150 years ago in 1865, is another master stroke which will bring so much pleasure to those who read it.

The narrative leans heavily on well-established secondary sources, all cited in an appended bibliography, to which is added a new and highly relevant dimension in the form of contemporary oral evidence provided by a wide range of Patagonians encountered by the author on his travels from the coastal resort of Puerto Madryn, where the Welsh first disembarked, to the Andean settlement of Esquel, some 500 miles west on the border of Chile.

The literary chemistry between the historical and more creative elements of this work have fused to form a refreshing addition to the extensive literature on this most extraordinary of tales. Much of this literature is also evaluated by Gower, paying especial attention to the writings of Eluned Morgan, Y Wladfa's most eminent literary figure, and Bruce Chatwin, the controversial author of the travelogue In Patagonia. Jon Gower also includes references to some hitherto largely ignored facets of Patagonian culture, notably the study of Welsh place-names and stories from its rich folklore. The author's obvious interest in the natural history of this wonderful land is reflected in some interesting references to the Welsh names given to birds which were native to the region and unfamiliar to the new settlers.

My personal experience of the Welsh colony is confined to a flying four-day visit in 2004 after a conference in Buenos Aires. It was an opportunity too good to miss, and an experience I will never forget. I was familiar with the story of the Mimosa from my primary-school days, but nothing can really prepare you for Y Wladfa. In contrast to most Welsh visitors, who tend to travel in groups for special occasions such as the annual eisteddfod, I travelled alone, which probably gave me a truer picture of the strength of the Welsh language in the community. Like John Gower, I found myself standing in front of the granite cenotaph on the sea shore at Puerto Madryn, which lists all the passengers of the Mimosa, an incredibly moving experience which brought tears to my eyes. I was left wondering how on earth these poor people managed to transform such a hostile landscape into a sustainable community? But with the help of the native Tehuelche Indians, possibly bribed by the Argentine government, they managed to survive, before going on to irrigate the land, fund and build a railway, and establish several communities along the Chubut Valley, each one served by a purpose-built chapel.

I came across many Welsh speakers in Puerto Madryn and elsewhere, but my most memorable moment in that town was when purchasing a new lock for my suitcase from a middle-aged ironmonger of native Indian extraction. When he established that I was a Welshman, he immediately launched into a rendering of the chorus of Cân y Mochyn Du, a song he claimed he had been taught at school! John Gower relates his encounter with a taxi driver in Puerto Madryn whose Taid was Welsh, and I had a similar experience in Trelew. (Maybe many Patagonian taxi drivers use this tack with visitors from Wales!)
But my taxi driver of Welsh descent was surely a Cardi, as he managed to run out of petrol when taking me to the Gaiman, apologetically leaving me on the paith for an hour whilst he hitch-hiked back to Trelew to refill his can. However, he did come back to pick me up from the Ysgol Feithrin after I had enjoyed a cup of traditional Te Cymreig (Welsh tea) to the strains of Dafydd Iwan!

Gwalia Patagonia is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and our thanks must go to Jon Gower for such a pleasurable read. I would have liked to have seen more illustrations and an index, and the inclusion of a sketch map would have been useful, but these are only minor gripes. I only wish I could have had the opportunity of reading this book before visiting this remarkable land, which our forebears, with great sacrifice and fortitude, successfully tamed and made home. It is such a wonderful story, which never ceases to amaze and entertain.

Richard E. Huws


It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Author Biography:
A former BBC Wales arts and media correspondent, Jon Gower is much in demand as a producer, presenter and public speaker, and indeed travels the world as an ambassador for the Hay Festival. A prolific author, his 2010 novel Uncharted received unstinting critical acclaim, whilst his An Island Called Smith won the John Morgan Travel award. His Welsh-language novel Y Storïwr won the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2012. He grew up in Llanelli, graduated in English from Cambridge University, and now lives in Cardiff.
Further Information:
"They are tough, independent, and undemonstrative people, not the singers and dreamers one associates with Wales, but a different breed altogether, churchgoers, sheep-farmers, tenaciously Protestant, with a great sentiment for a homeland they have never seen and for a language few speak."

Paul Theroux in The Old Patagonian Express.


Part history, part oral history Gwalia Patagonia follows the story of the Welsh settlement in South America, which took an old language into a new land. Along the way we encounter legendary giants and Andean condors, devil spirits and chapel-worshippers, in one of the emptiest places on earth and hear how the descendants of the first families view their history in the twenty-first century.

Written in Jon Gower’s inimitable style, it is a treasure trove of personal accounts and impressions, bringing new dimensions to a familiar tale.

Last Updated on 13 April 2015
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, award-winning author Jon Gower has retraced the footsteps of those intrepid pioneers who in 1865 swapped the green valleys of home for the dusty deserts of South America.

They had ventured across the Atlantic in search of the Promised Land, but found instead a harsh and hostile land, where many of their ancestors remain to this day, preserving the Welsh way of life, even if the tea-shop and hymn-singing stereo-type may be starting to wear thin.

Unlike the armchair romantics who eulogize the Patagonian odyssey, the much-travelled Jon Gower has made the hard yards, in the library, on foot, and by bus and plane. He has read the books written about the colony, like those by Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, but more importantly he has been to Argentina to experience the conditions and meet the people first hand, bringing new dimensions to a familiar tale.

Gwalia Patagonia is, therefore, part history, part oral history, where we encounter legendary giants and Andean condors, devil spirits and chapel-worshippers, and hear how the descendants of the first families view their history in the twenty-first century. There are stories of romance and danger, of faith and fear, of engineering ingenuity and gunslinging heroism.

But, above all, it is a story of survival.

Or as Ariel Hughes of Trelew (named after Lewis Jones, one of the colony’s founding fathers) tells the author, ‘Being free is the spirit of Patagonia’.

What is more, Gwalia Patagonia is making a practical contribution to the survival of the Welsh way of life eight thousand miles away because the royalty payments from the book are all to be donated to the Welsh school in Esquel, Ysgol y Cwm.
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