ONE LAST SPRING by Sian Ann Bessey
Once in awhile a book comes along that touches me in a personal way. Such is One Last Spring by Sian Ann Bessey. Perhaps because a branch of my own family tree comes from Wales; perhaps because my great grandfather was involved in building the American Fork dam which included moving a village and a cemetery, or perhaps because there’s a lilt to Bessey’s writing that speaks to the child I once was, freely roaming open hills and fields, I found a deep connection to this story. This is a story that takes place in the 1880s, a time when the Vyrnwy Dam was built in Wales to provide desperately needed water to Liverpool, England, displacing Llanwddyn village, including farms, churches, the blacksmith, and even the cemetery which had nestled in the small valley for many generations.
Due to a measles outbreak, Gwen and her brother, Robert, were orphaned at a young age and went to live with their Auntie Jane in the Welsh village Llanwddyn. When word comes that the town is to be vacated and would soon be underwater, Gwen is sixteen and her brother three years older. Robert has always dreamed of going to sea and before he leaves, he charges his best friend Lewis Morgan with looking after Gwen. At first their relationship is the same big brother/little sister arrangement it has been for years, but gradually their feelings change. Lewis isn’t the only young man who shows an interest in Gwen, however. The wealthy young architect for the dam discovers Gwen’s artistic talent, then they both enjoy the developing friendship between them.
Along with sorrow and concern over losing their homes and the uncertainties of their future, there’s a disconnect between the villagers and the men building the dam. They speak different languages; the workers spend too much time at the pub and are often drunk and threatening to the village women; children grow up, the villagers don’t understand the purpose of the dam or why they should lose their homes so that far off Englishmen can have water. Village life goes on with its births, deaths, and simplicity, but it is obvious the dam will bring changes and life won’t be so simple.
The characters in this story are portrayed well with the faults, regrets, hopes, fears, and good intentions the reader can relate to. The main characters are good people who sometimes fail to communicate clearly with each other and too often rely on assumptions. Auntie Jane is not good at showing emotion, but the author does an excellent job of revealing the feelings the woman cannot. The kindness of the villagers toward each other is consistent and reveals the sense of family a secluded small village develops. Knowing they will soon no longer be a community sharpens their awareness of each other’s needs.
The double plot lines are simple and direct. There’s the romance which is tender and sweet. And there’s the construction of the dam which leads to the title of the book, One Last Spring. It’s the final time these people will be together before the dam’s completion scatters them to other places and other ways of life. It’s a time of final goodbyes and a hint of the new lives before them.
The places mentioned in this book are real places as are the major events. The Vyrnwy Dam did disrupt a small town which now lies at the bottom of a reservoir. The reservoir or lake has become a popular tourist attraction in Wales since that eventful time. The author is a great great granddaughter of the man who was the village blacksmith in Llanwddyn in the late nineteenth century when the Vyrnwy Dam was built and relies heavily on her own visit to the area and the stories of her Welsh father. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end of the book.
Sian Ann Bessey was born in Cambridge, England, and grew up on the island of Anglesey off the northern coast of Wales. As a young adult she attended Brigham Young University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications. She and her husband now live in Rexburg, Idaho, and are the parents of five children. She is the author of a dozen books.
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ONE LAST SPRING by Sian Ann Bessey, published by Covenant Communications, 280 pages, soft cover $15.99 Also available for e-book readers and as an audiobook (MP3).