The Long Field burrows deep into the Welsh countryside to tell how this small country became a big part of an American writer’s life. Petro, author of Travels in an Old Tongue, twines her story around that of Wales by viewing both through the lens of hiraeth, a quintessential Welsh word famously hard to translate. It literally means “long field,” but is also more than the English approximation of “homesickness.” It’s a name for the bone-deep longing felt for someone or something–a home, culture, language, a younger self–that you’ve lost or left behind.
Hiraeth is embodied by Arthur, King of the Once and Future, but never the Present. It is, above all, an acknowledgement of the presence of absence in our lives. The Long Field braids the hiraeth Petro has experienced personally–as an American who pines for Wales; as a gay woman in a same-sex relationship; as the survivor of a horrific train crash; as the daughter of a parent with dementia–into the essential hiraeth stories of Wales.
Along the way Petro looks at hiraeth in traditional and radically new ways: queer hiraeth, the hiraeth of technology, ancestry, minorities, the environment, and politics in the age of Brexit and Trump. Petro’s hiraeth is not only an awareness of loss and longing but also a creative response to absence and loss, which she sees as the genius of Welsh culture and the wellspring of all creativity.