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The Empty Room,


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Who are the three characters a woman, boy and girl staring out at us from the cover? What is the official-looking document in the background? Why is the room 'empty', according to the title? Youngsters and others wanting to know the answers to these questions will find them here, and will learn more about the nature of peaceful protest for social justice in a Welsh twentieth-century context. But the strengths of this book are not only in its unique political perspective, but in its portrayal of a specific period and its genuine sense of family, community and continuity. The Empty Room is a translation by the author of her novelisation of the true story of the Beasley family during the late 1950s and 1960s, originally entitled Darn Bach o Bapur. Angharad Tomos opens the reader's eyes on the modern history of Wales when English was the official language of public life, despite the strength of the native Welsh language, and when the actions of individuals in pursuit of fairness meant hardship. By requesting a form in their native tongue (Welsh being the first language of 90% of the local population at the time), the Beasleys set in motion an eight-year battle for a Welsh or bilingual rates form from Llanelli District Council and became pioneer campaigners for the Welsh language. A photograph of Eileen with her son Elidyr and daughter Delyth, together with a partial copy of a council demand note with the stark title set the scene; then the author pulls no punches as a brief introduction sets the context. Angharad Tomos, during her first act of protest for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, was joined by Delyth, daughter of Eileen Beasley (19212012), the writer's heroine, who is sometimes known as 'the Rosa Parks of Wales' as a result of her stand for Welsh equality. The bulk of the work highlights daily life for the children as they grow up in their home in Llangennech. They witness their parents, (miner and union man Trefor and former French and Welsh teacher Eileen), stand their ground when presented with an English-language bill for their local rates, and request a Welsh or bilingual form. Delyth and Elidyr play a significant part and are directly affected as their mother is taken to court and bailiffs take away furniture and goods, including the piano, family heirlooms and wedding presents. Eventually, they have only a kitchen table and chairs, beds, plus some homemade jam. We learn that Eileen became the first female local councillor, and after eight years of campaigning and sacrifice, the council finally agrees to provide the rates document, in both Welsh and English. The novel's Afterword notes that Saunders Lewis's influential 'Tynged yr Iaith' / 'Fate of Wales' radio lecture and pamphlet of 1962 cited the Beasleys' sacrifice and called for support for such people and such inspirational non-violent civil disobedience campaigns to promote the Welsh language. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg movement came into being as a result. Many adult readers will be aware of the consequences of historical decisions made since the Tudor era on the fate of the language; such consequences for Welsh speakers in the 1950s are highlighted through actual events which affect Elidyr and Delyth directly. The social position of women is also integral to the story too, so that whilst appreciating Eileen Beasley's strong character and strength of purpose in public service, young readers will find it bemusing that women teachers were not allowed to work once they were married, and that females had no role in many areas of public life. Fundamentally this is a story of family life in unique circumstances, rather than a narrow political tract. The author presents plenty of food for thought, and from the very start the intention is to engage the readership in making up their own mind about people standing up for their beliefs. With entries on Eileen and Trefor Beasley appearing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the first time this year, both the original Darn Bach o Bapur and The Empty Room are important works which deserve to come to the attention of readers in Wales and beyond, whether they are nine or ninety. M. Lorna Herbert Egan It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar, trwy ganiatd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru. -- Welsh Books Council

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