Thursday, April 21, 2011

On The Welsh Girl and Run!

Book 44: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

Davies begins this World War II novel -- his first -- with one story, switches to another that takes up most of the book only to return to his original story in the closing pages.

The connection between the opening-closing story and that of the Welsh Girl, which takes up most of the book and from which its title is drawn, is slender and the creative reason for Davies' decision to merge them into one novel still eludes this reader.

The central story, that of 17-year-old Esther Evans, who helps her father on the family farm during the day and works at the local pub as a bar maid at night, is not terribly original.

Esther is pregnant.  That's the only spoiler I'll let escape me in this post. The father is either a). the earnest local boy who proposed before leaving for the war, b). an English soldier posted in Wales who frequents the pub where Esther works, or c). a German prisoner of war who briefly escapes his confinement.

The second story -- the one that opens and closes the book -- is about a German-Jew who fled Germany before the outbreak of war and is now aiding the Allied effort. His work leads him to interrogate a British prisoner -- the notorious Nazi Rudolf Hess.

Davies is a gifted writer, but the story -- makes that stories -- that populate The Welsh Girl are neither compelling nor particularly original.

Book 45:  Run! by Dean Karnazes 

As a runner of more than 30 years, I am of two minds about Dean Karnazes and his book Run!

My first is that Karnazes's writing is clearly inspirational and that it motivates people to take up a more active lifestyle. But not necessarily a healthier lifestyle, and that's my problem with Karnazes's book.

Karnazes is not simply an endurance athlete, but an extreme endurance athlete. Emphasis on the extreme. A marathon is a walk around the park for him. He doesn't really break a sweat until he's got 100 miles under his belt or run across the Gobi Desert or the Sahara or Antarctica.

I admire Karnazes for his undertakings, but they are beyond most people. I've run four marathons, finished each one and ended up in the med tent receiving an IV after three of the four. And I was hospitalized for heat prostration training for a fifth.

Karnazes encourages people to take up a more active lifestyle, but he also writes blithely of friends, who have never run before, jumping in and running nine, 10 or 11 miles with him. That's the way to injury and it's not the way most of us start a successful training program.

My thought is that Karnazes's books -- he's written two -- should have a large red warning sticker affixed to the coverage: Danger compelling tales of extreme endurance.  I recognize that such a warning is only likely to incite more people to blindly follow his lead, but it might cause a few more cautious souls to embark on a saner, safer fitness regimen.

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