Dark Territory: An Interview With Author Jerry Hunter (Includes excerpt - Chapter 1)
Posted in: Author Interviews
'Jerry Hunter was born in Cincinnati, USA and is now is a Professor of Welsh and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Bangor, and lives with his family in North Wales. He is best known as a Welsh-language author and has won prestigious literary awards including Welsh Book of the Year for his academic work Llwch Cenhedloedd , and the National Eisteddfod Prose Medal for his first novel, Gwenddydd .'
AmeriCymru: Hi Jerry and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to introduce your new novel 'Dark Territory' for our readers?
Jerry: The novel combines mystery and adventure with meditations on the dangers of religious extremism. It also moves from Wales to England, Ireland and North America.
The main character, Rhisiart Dafydd, is a Welshman who becomes a Roundhead and fights in Oliver Cromwell’s army during the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century. A series of events leads to a transformation in his world view (perhaps best characterized as disillusionment). After the wars, he decides to accept a mission offered by the colonel under whom he had served and sail across the sea to search for a lost community of Welsh Puritans in the forests of North America.
While the story is anchored in the ‘present’ of Rhisiart’s mysterious mission, the novel also moves back in order to provide glimpses of the key events in his life which helped make him the man he is (or the various men he has been during various times in his life). The work aims to provide a sympathetic portrait of a convert who becomes willing to kill for his religion, before moving on to examine ways in which such an individual might question the extremism characterizing his own violent career.
While there was a very small – if very active – community of Welsh Puritans who sided with Parliament during the wars, the vast majority of Welsh people remained conservative in their religion and politics during the seventeenth century and thus supported the Royalist cause. The novel also provides ways of thinking about different kinds of identity – specifically, the way in which religious and political beliefs intersect with national identity in forming one’s world view. As a young man, Rhisiart is committed to the Parliamentarian cause, yet he is also painfully aware of the fact that most of this fellow Welshmen who have gone to war are fighting on the other side.
It’s important to note that I wrote the novel in Welsh (published as Y Fro Dywyll ). Patrick K. Ford translated it into English. Thus, in a very real way, he is as responsible for Dark Territory as I am!
AmeriCymru: The action in your book revolves around an atrocity committed by parliamentary forces after the battle of Naseby in 1645. Would you say that the events recounted in your book have largely been overlooked by historians? If so, why?
Jerry: Several dark chapters in human history contribute to the ‘darkness’ through which Rhisiart Dafydd travels in this story. Some of these historical experiences are much better known – for example, the bloody actions of Cromwell’s army in Ireland and the Native American genocide. The atrocity to which you refer – the massacre of the people whom I call ‘the Women of Naseby’ in the novel – is not very well known. Indeed, I have been surprised by the extent to which Welsh historians have ignored it. (I think that this can be explained, but that would probably develop into a long article in itself and thus best left for another time!) It was common for women to follow their men to battle at the time; these were not ‘camp followers’ in the derogatory sense of the phrase today, but often wives and daughters who followed their husbands and fathers to war in order to help cook and care for them. They formed their own mobile society. As there were many Welsh Royalist soldiers serving at Naseby, there was also a considerable number of Welsh women in the camp near the battlefield. This is already enough of a ‘spoiler’; it’s probably best to not say anymore now before readers engage with the novel!
AmeriCymru: You have said:-‘With this novel I also wanted to cross-examine the ideological foundations of “American Exceptionalism". For centuries politicians in the USA have referred to the nation as a “shining light” for the rest of the world to follow. Through the prism of fiction, this work examines the dark realities at the foundations of those beliefs.’ How, in your opinion, do these events in 1645 relate to the doctrine of 'American Exceptionalism'?
Jerry: My fictional community of Welsh Puritans in North America is a distorted mirror used to examine the ideology of English Puritans who colonized ‘New England.’ Since the seventeenth century, Matthew 4:14-15 has inflected a great deal of American writing and tempered American thinking (‘You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.’) I wanted the metaphors used by those claiming to bring ‘light’ to ‘dark’ places, much as Joseph Conrad does in Heart of Darkness . The events of 1645 contribute to Rhisiart’s own interior journey, forcing him to re-examine how he defines ‘light’/’darkness’, ‘good’/’evil’, etc.
AmeriCymru: You will be talking about the book at a few events in the United States. We have the so far announced dates listed on this page (see below). Will you be adding further dates to those already announced? Are there any details about your forthcoming appearances that you would like to especially highlight?
Jerry: I’d love to talk about the book at other events in other parts of the United States, and hopefully some more dates will be added in the near future.
One special thing about some of the ones planned for the New England area is that the translator, Patrick K. Ford, will be taking part as well. He is a fantastic literary scholar as well as a great translator of both Irish and Welsh literature, and it’ll be well worth hearing what he has to say as well.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Jerry Hunter? Any new titles in the pipeline?
Jerry: I have another historical novel in press at the moment. The working title is Ynys Fadog , and it traces the entire history of a Welsh-American community in Gallia County, Ohio, from 1818 to 1937. I am also co-authoring a book with Dylan Foster Evans on the history of Welsh Literature from the beginning to the year 1740.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Jerry: Given the interest in Welsh-American links which brings people to AmeriCymru, it’s worth stressing the unique process which brought Dark Territory into being. This is a novel written in Welsh by an American and then translated into English by another American. That is surely a first in the history of Welsh-American cultural interactions!
I was extremely honored when Patrick K. Ford told me that he was translating the novel. His translation of the Mabinogi is somewhat of a classic, having been in print for over 40 years. He is a very generous translator, and he kindly included me in the process, trying out different drafts on me and talking over various aspects of the work in great detail. His engagement with the novel forced me to see my own work in new ways, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that.
Porter Square Books in Cambridge Mass
Friday, May 25, 2018 - 7:00pm
Also featuring translator Pat Ford, former chair of Celtic Languages and Literatures department at Harvard.
Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth NH
Sunday, May 27th 2018 - Time TBD
Sponsored by RiverRun Bookstore
Joseph Beth Bookstore in Cincinnatti
Thursday July 26th - 7PM
Alexandria, VA - NAFOW
August 30–September 2, 2018
Harvard Coop Bookstore, Cambridge MA
Friday, October 5, - 7:00 p.m
Jerry will be participating in the Harvard Celtic Colloquium
Fascinating, so much so that I have ordered the original Welsh language version. I will be interested to follow the progress of the Gallia County novel as it is a question of currently unverifiable family history for me.