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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 18, 1992|CHRIS GOODRICH

A WALK THROUGH WALES by Anthony Bailey (HarperCollins: $23; 290 pp.). Only after he leaves behind the industrial and housing estates of suburban Cardiff does Anthony Bailey hit his stride in this book--in literary terms, that is. Bailey, a staff writer of the New Yorker, really does walk through Wales in "A Walk Through Wales," from Cardiff in the south to Bangor in the north, and what he finds is a lush country obsessed with its identity. Nationalism isn't as strong a feature of Wales as it is of Ireland or Scotland, boasting neither a distinct royalty nor a separate religion, yet Bailey encountered signs of it nearly every day, from geographical names recast in Gaelic to pub talks with unreformed monkey wrenchers. (One professor-cum-rebel told Bailey that while he and his friends remembered the wire cutters when they set out to disable a BBC transmitter in 1981, the operation was delayed a few hours because they "had forgotten to write a press release--a prime necessity of modern insurgency.") Welsh resentment of the English is a function not only of past injustice--Henry IV, for example, made the Welsh second-class citizens by law--but of present economics, with the influx of 50,000 English every year raising prices in Wales as well as hackles. There's more to "A Walk Through Wales" than politics, however, Bailey doing his usual deft job of interweaving history, personal observation and serendipitous conversation. Three facts of no import but some interest: that you can obtain burial rights in a cemetery outside Llanddewi Brefi for a mere 25, that Noel Coward wrote "Blithe Spirit" in the town of Portmeirion in just six days, and that landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, a noted walker, believed well-traveled feet could be revived with a glassful of spirits poured directly into the shoes.

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