The Long Field
WALES AND THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE, A MEMOIR
I’m delighted to announce that the British edition of my book, The Long Field – Wales and the Presence of Absence, A Memoir, was published in paperback in March, 2023. What a joy that this hybrid, creative nonfiction-memoir—an eight-year labor of love from conception to finish—is now out in the UK in both hardback and paperback. And will be published in hardcover in the US on August 15, 2023!
The Long Field burrows deep into the Welsh countryside to tell how this small country became a big part of my life as an American writer. The book’s format twines my story around that of Wales by viewing both through the lens of hiraeth, a Welsh word that’s famously hard to translate (one literal meaning of hiraeth is ‘long field’). It is also the name for the bone-deep longing for something or someone – a home, culture, language, or even a younger self. The Long Field braids memoir with the essential hiraeth stories of Wales, and in doing so creates a radical new vision of place and belonging.
Shortlisted for the 2022 Wales Book of the Year Award
One of 6 Best Travel Books of 2021! — The Financial Times
One of the 8 Best Travel Books of the Year! — The Telegraph
More About Hiraeth:
If you’re interested in reading more about hiraeth by others—from a graphic essay called “Ketamine Dreams” to a poem about the last eagle in Wales—CLICK HERE to read Little Toller’s online literary journal, The Clearing, which celebrated the publication of The Long Field by asking Welsh and American writers and artists to capture their idea of hiraeth.
Interviews / Talks /Online Readings:
Praise for The Long Field:
The simplest way to describe TLF would be as a memoir, but it’s really much more than that. It’s the story of the author’s enduring and life-defining love of Wales, its myths, histories and landscapes. This isn’t a chronological memoir, however, but is instead carefully structured around themes and motifs in a way that reminded me of Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. The central theme is hiraeth, a Welsh word that can be most literally translated as “long field,” but is most often interpreted as describing a deep sense of absence, loss or longing. This long field is the space between where we stand now and where we once were, the impossible distance between our desires for the future and the present.
Petro takes this word, this sense of aching and palpable absence, and uses it as a lens to consider a broad range of ideas and topics, ranging from the deeply personal to the undeniably universal. The truly brilliant thing here, though, is how this ache is transformed from something that can be potentially reactionary and backward looking into a source of creativity, not just on the scale of the individual but the collective too. Landscape, history, literature, art, community, language, sexuality, politics, even technology, the scope of Petro’s thinking is remarkable!
In short, TLF is a fusion of the general and the specific, the intellect and the spirit, and a book that’s heart beats with a quiet but furious pulse. So yeah, read it.
— Peter Birchenough, Events Manager, Stanfords Bookshop, Bristol, England
‘I write…to find out what it all means’. Over decades of annual visits to Wales, reading, research, meeting people, taking an intensive Welsh course at the University in Lampeter, walking all points North to South – deep into Big Pit, (one of the last mines to be closed, now a museum), high into the mountains, bleak Epynt, stripped of its people by the British Army, the beautiful Brecon Beacons, Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, – Pam Petro gets to the soul of Wales, while finding her self, her place, her ‘presence in absence’, through language. Two untranslatable Welsh words lead her: hiraeth – it means so much more than longing – and cynefin, the revelation that you have arrived at a place where ‘belonging feels like gravity’.
Not since Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek have I felt so involved, as a reader, to ‘finding out what it all means.’ This is a beautifully written, un-put-downable book about language, love, and being alive, here, now.
– Gillian Clarke, former National Poet of Wales
Petro writes with passion and precision in a style that is both intimate and profound. There’s an old saying in Welsh– dechrau wrth dy draed; it means “start with your feet”—that originally referred to the moving of stones from a field. Here Petro digs into the landscape of Wales and that of her own life in America to unearth not stones, but deep truths with which she surprises and delights the reader.
– Menna Elfyn, one of Wales’ best-known poets
A Celtic knot, writes Pamela Petro, is ‘a diagram of impossibility intimately bound up with hope’. Perhaps the same could be said of hiraeth, that indefinably Welsh concept that whispers like morning mist around the too-green hills. Hiraeth is Petro’s topic and her muse, and here she draws out its many strands and plaits them into one iridescently lovely book. In its grace and elegance, its interlaced leitmotifs and shapely tendrils, The Long Field is a literary Celtic knot of quite exquisite power.
– Gwyneth Lewis, first National Poet of Wales
‘Pamela Petro’s extraordinary sensitivity for atmosphere catches the feel, smell and sensation of being in Wales brilliantly. She honours hiraeth as a lens through which to consider the nature of home, travel and invention. Both playful and serious, this memoir looks deep into the long field that separates and unites us, placing it squarely in a geography of love. ‘
– Mike Parker, author of the award-winning On the Red Hill
An exquisite unfolding of the truths of language and the human heart.
– Jay Griffiths, author of Wild
Pamela Petro’s The Long Field…is more than a beautiful memoir of the author’s long-time fascination with Wales. It is a profound and sparkling exploration of the ideas of home, loss, love, family, and sexuality. You come away from it not just in awe of her ability to seamlessly weave all these themes into a rich and moving narrative, but with something much deeper: a new view of the world and your place in it.
– Thomas Swick, travel writer