American Interior by Gruff Rhys

American Interior by Gruff Rhys

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This is a story of three Welsh-men, and their real or mythical journeys from Wales to the American Interior. Gruff Rhys retraces the steps of John Evans, who in the 1790s, went over to America to try to find a mythical tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. These Welsh-Native-Americans were supposedly headed by a man called Madog in the 1100s. There is a lot going on in this book, and I feel that the story itself might work better in the documentary which accompanies the book. There is also an album of songs which Rhys wrote on the road which, for obvious reasons, would come across better in a medium with sound. There is also an app for this story: it’s cool that Rhys plays with form in this way, experimenting with the best way to tell the story (or for money, either way it’s something I think artists could experiment more with).

I read this book very quickly. Rhys’ language is accessible and often funny, and I wanted to find out what happened to John Evans on his journey into the very young USA. I actually learned a lot about the formation of the US that I didn’t know previously. For instance, I didn’t realise how many different Native American tribes there were, who have also disappeared. I also didn’t know much about the colonial powers (the Spanish, British and French) holding various parts of the continent, and how tribal it was at that time. But I suppose that point in history has been intentionally forgotten about for a number of reasons. John Evans’ himself has been forgotten about, though he has a lot to do with the history of Missouri especially.

It’s interesting when Rhys makes music with Native American tribes. Some lyrics are noted down in the book, and Rhys tours through places his manager thinks won’t sell very well, just to follow in Evans’ footsteps. There is some shared history for both cultures: at the moment, both have fears of losing their languages forever. And perhaps the rumours of Welsh Native American tribes sprung up from feelings of camaraderie. Rhys also travels with an avatar of John Evans, which makes for some interesting photos. This avatar takes over sometimes, starts speaking. I enjoyed this.

Unsurprisingly, a Welsh-speaking tribe is never found. Rhys attributes the very idea of it, in the 1790s, to racism: the idea that tribes considered “primitive” couldn’t possibly have built intricate buildings or communicate in written language. Rhys’ book is entertaining and his story is interesting. I liked reading American Interior, but I do like books to go a little deeper into the subject matter. I’d like to watch the documentary too at some point.

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