A new book called Monica was launched on Saturday 7th October at Cowbridge Town Hall in South Wales. It tells the story of a family who fled grinding poverty and endless wars in 1920s Poland to start a new life in France. France had suffered heavy losses in World War I and needed immigrant labour to work in the mines. This family were part of that solution but shortly after moving found themselves living under German occupation in World War II.
The story is told from the perspective of the youngest member of the family. A little girl known as Monia at home, but Monique to her French school friends. She finally becomes known as Monica when the family settled in the South Wales coal field after the war. She recounts day to day life under occupation and beyond. She also embodies some recurring themes throughout the story. The mass movement of people across war torn Europe and the breakneck pace of change in the 20th century. One of her uncles glibly comments over dinner that he was born before the Wright brothers had achieved flight but had lived to see a man land on the moon. A remark which so aptly sums that up.
At the launch, the author Graham Loveluck-Edwards talked about the very real people the book is based on. A little-known history which is part of our story of diversity in Wales.
At the end of the second World War, it was Britain which had lost so many men that additional workers were needed to fill jobs in the mines. Soldiers of the Polish Free Army had fought alongside the British. After the war they were given a choice: Return to their country of residence or stay in the UK to work in the mines here. And that was the story of this family. So, the book also deals with first impressions of South Wales in 1948, and the uniquely Welsh things which made it feel like home.
Graham also revealed at the launch that he is a lot closer to the story than people might realise. “The principal character; Monica is based on my own mother. And this is all based on the history of her family”. He went on “people who knew her from the days when she ran Sacha Boutique in Bridgend in the 1970s and the Elle Dress Agency in Cowbridge in the 1990s may remember her as a rather glamorous and flamboyant lady. They might be surprised at her humble origins in a family of Polish peasants whose existence was so precarious, they measured a good winter by the fact that everyone in the household had survived”.
Even without any personal connections, readers will find the book absorbing and the story it tells fascinating and at times, amusing. Graham who is better known for writing about ancient Welsh legends and stories about pirates and highwaymen said “you will find the stories in this book every bit as entertaining as anything I’ve ever written about pirates or mythical beasts. The difference is, there are plenty of people dotted around the UK who share this history and will see their own family history reflected in what I have written”.