Davies, Peter Ho 1966–

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Davies, Peter Ho 1966–

PERSONAL:

Born August 30, 1966, in Coventry, England; immigrated to the United States, 1992; son of Thomas Enion and Sook Davies; married Lynne Anne Raughley, December 18, 1994; children: one. Education: University of Manchester, B.S., 1987; Cambridge University, M.A., 1989; Boston University, M.A., 1994.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Ann Arbor, MI. Office—University of Michigan, Department of English Language and Literature, 435 S. State St., 3187 Angell Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1003. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Emory University, Atlanta, GA, lecturer, 1996-97; University of Oregon, Eugene, assistant professor, 1997-99; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, assistant professor, 1999—, creative writing program director, 2002—. Also taught at Boston University. Board member of Varsity Publications Ltd., Cambridge, 1990-93; trustee of Varsity Trust, Cambridge, beginning 1991. Member, Fine Arts Work Center writing committee, 1996—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Named among Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, 2003; O. Henry Award; Oregon Book Award, MacMillan Silver PEN Award, and John Llewellen Rhys Prize, all for The Ugliest House in the World; Los Angeles Times Book Prize, for Equal Love; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; Guggenheim Award; Fine Arts Work Center fellowship.

WRITINGS:

The Ugliest House in the World (short stories), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

Equal Love (short stories), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

The Welsh Girl, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.

Contributor to anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, 1995, 1996, and 2001, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, 1998.

Contributor to periodicals, including Story, Harvard Review, Harper's, Atlantic, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Granta, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Paris Review.

SIDELIGHTS:

Peter Ho Davies is the author of prize-winning stories and collections, including The Ugliest House in the World. An acclaimed author and frequent contributor to literary magazines, Davies was fortunate enough to see his first published story in the United States achieve inclusion in the prestigious anthology Best American Short Stories 1995. Jay A. Fernandez noted in Washington Post Book World that Davies is the son of Welsh and Chinese parents and that "his mixed heritage is evident in his short story collection…. He writes with equal authenticity about the Communist Revolution in China, present-day tensions in Wales, and ostrich herding in Patagonia, evoking time and place with what appears to be an impressive acuity." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "At his best, as in the title story about the way in which a child's death polarizes a Welsh village, Davies exhibits a sharp, unblinking, persuasive view of human nature, as well as a deft hand at plotting." A Publishers Weekly reviewer was disappointed in "The Union," a story about an 1899 strike in a Welsh quarry, but added that "in the main, Davies wields words with precision and delicacy, crafting stories admirable for their spare style, taut prose, and arresting images."

Ploughshares reviewer Michael Byers declared that in Davies's second collection, Equal Love, "common domestic situations give rise, in unexpected ways, to moments of luminous reflection…. The strongest stories in the book, ‘Small World’ and ‘Equal Love,’ are about love, and lust, between people who shouldn't be falling in love or having sex." Byers concluded that "the chorus of voices in Equal Love is more diverse than in any collection in recent memory…. Every one of these voices rings entirely true, testament to Davies's perfect ear." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that in these stories, "striking combinations of disappointment and pleasure, alienation and belonging, longing and ambivalence occur … unifying the collection with Davies's compassionate voice, sure craftsmanship, and complex vision."

Davies's stories are set in the United Kingdom and the United States—in Manchester, New Hampshire; San Francisco's Chinatown; Eugene, Oregon; Paramus, New Jersey; and Boston, Massachusetts. Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, writing in Library Journal, observed that some of the stories "feel autobiographical," including "How to Be an Expatriate." In the New York Times Book Review, Jacqueline Carey acknowledged that "variety is both a blessing and a curse. The better stories are strengthened by their graphic singularity, which makes what's common to people all over the globe resonate even louder. These stories are as deep and clear as myths. But other stories, because they don't feel rooted anywhere, can read like exercises. Davies is in the most trouble when the narrative voice seems to stray farthest from his own—when the central character is, for instance, a reformed druggie seeking to regain custody of her baby boy." Carey felt that the best story in Equal Love is "The Next Life," in which a Chinese man arranges a traditional funeral for his father that includes hired mourners and the ritual burning of paper goods in the form of houses, spirit money, and cars. "All the stories in this collection are artfully constructed," stated Carey, "but ‘The Next Life’ is written so exactly that each sentence seems to contain a hundred more within it." Booklist reviewer Mary Ellen Quinn added that Davies "manages to convey all his characters' predicaments with finesse."

The Welsh Girl is Davies's debut novel, which Booklist reviewer Michele Leber called a "beautifully written story of life and love on the outskirts of the war." The book is "preoccupied with ideas of identity, belonging and alienation," observed Manchester Guardian reviewer Helen Dunmore. "Ho Davies explores the ways in which war ruptures the relationship between a human being and the place (or country) that is called home."

In Wales during World War II, the stress of the war is felt by the book's three main characters as their lives gradually move toward each other and intertwine. Seventeen-year-old Esther Evans is intelligent and ambitious, but fate seems to have decreed that she will remain in Wales on her widowed father's sheep farm. Because of the war, Esther has lost two young men who courted her, one of whom she was interested in. Now, she works as a barmaid in the village pub and hopes that she will be able to elope with her newest boyfriend, an English sapper. Karsten is a German officer interned in a Welsh prisoner-of-war camp. The humiliated Karsten is reviled by his fellow inmates who believe he surrendered too easily and allowed them to be captured. The third character, Rotheram, is a German Jew and an English military interrogator who has been assigned to interview Rudolph Hess; Rotheram must determine the nature and depth of Hess's crimes and guilt, and decide if the German is fit to stand trial. As the story progresses, Esther is raped and left pregnant by her now-absent boyfriend. Rotheram endures deeply conflicted emotions, ranging from deep shame to outright denial, over his Jewish identity and how it fits within the turmoil of the war. Karsten escapes from the prison camp and hides in a barn on Esther's father's farm. There, the two encounter each other, and after a brief and tender interlude, both achieve significant realizations about the nature of confinement and freedom.

New York Times Book Review critic Richard Eder called The Welsh Girl a "distinguished, beautifully written example of a small but enduring genre. Call it the counterwar novel. Not antiwar, exactly; it lacks the belligerence." Instead, the core of its story quietly resists all that war involves, all that it stands for, and all that it forces upon participants and spectators. The book's "characters are heartfelt and real and events vividly and memorably described," commented Library Journal reviewer David Berona. The novel "succeeds admirably in its presentation of engaging major characters," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, who concluded that the result is a "rich, moving explication of the ambiguities of duty and sacrifice, courage, and perseverance." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented favorably on the novel's "beautifully realized characters," and their lesson that "life is a jumble of difficult compromises best confronted with eyes wide open."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2000, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Equal Love, p. 873; November 15, 2006, Michele Leber, review of The Welsh Girl, p. 6.

Books, January 28, 2007, "Peter Ho Davies' 1st Novel Is a Top-notch Tale," p. 4.

Bookseller, January 5, 2007, Alison Bone, "Wales in Wartime: Alison Bone Talks to Prize-winning Short Story Writer Peter Ho Davies about His First Novel," p. 16.

Guardian (Manchester, England), May 5, 2007, Helen Dunmore, "Forms of Belonging," review of The Welsh Girl.

Independent (London, England), June 1, 2007, Richard Gwynn, review of The Welsh Girl.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1997, review of The Ugliest House in the World, p. 1048; November 15, 2006, review of The Welsh Girl, p. 1143.

Library Journal, December, 1999, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of Equal Love, p. 190; November 15, 2006, David A. Berona, review of The Welsh Girl, p. 55.

New Yorker, May 21, 2007, review of The Welsh Girl, p. 79.

New York Times Book Review, March 19, 2000, Jacqueline Carey, "Ties That Grind," p. 11; February 18, 2007, Jennifer Egan, "Through the Prison Camp Fence," review of The Welsh Girl, p. 10; May 2, 2007, Richard Eder, "Crosscurrents of Identities: British Soldiers, German Prisoners, and a Welsh Barmaid," review of The Welsh Girl.

Ploughshares, spring, 2000, Michael Byers, review of Equal Love, p. 213.

Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1997, review of The Ugliest House in the World, p. 384; November 22, 1999, review of Equal Love, p. 41; October 23, 2006, review of The Welsh Girl, p. 27.

Washington Post Book World, January 4, 1998, Jay A. Fernandez, review of The Ugliest House in the World, p. 8.

ONLINE

Asylum Web log,http://theasylum.wordpress.com/ (June 9, 2007), John Self, review of The Welsh Girl.

Houghton Mifflin Web site,http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (August 5, 2007), biography of Peter Ho Davies.

January Magazine,http://januarymagazine.com/ (August 5, 2007), Cherie Thiessen, "Love and Other Wars," review of The Welsh Girl.

Ploughshares Online,http://www.pshares.org/ (August 5, 2007), biography of Peter Ho Davies.

University of Michigan Department of English Web site,http://www.lsa.umich.edu/english/ (August 5, 2007), biography of Peter Ho Davies.

Virginia Quarterly Review Online,http://www.vqronline.org/ (August 5, 2007), Jeremiah Chamberlin, interview with Peter Ho Davies.

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