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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Y Nendyrau by Seran Dolma

14 Jun 2024 6 minute read
Y Nendyrau by Seran Dolma is published by Gwasg y Bwthyn

Ant Evans

“Pan ti’n edrych allan o ffenest gegin ein fflat ni, ti’n gweld dim byd ond awyr.”

 “When you look out of the kitchen window of our flat, you see nothing but sky.”

So far so normal, you might think. Especially so from the 107th floor. However, the skyscraper which is home to our teenage protagonist Daniel Lewis and his father Nick, is located in a world which has changed vastly compared to the one where we as readers currently reside. Due to climate change and the melting of the polar icecaps, much of the world, including the city somewhere in Asia which the skyscraper was once on the outskirts of, is now underwater.

We’re told how Nick purchased the flat on the 107th floor where he lives with his son from a businessman who wanted a quick sale as, due to the rapidly rising water, anyone with any sense was leaving. Nick on the other hand, had other ideas.

Keen to establish a new society in the skyscraper he and Daniel inhabited, Nick set about recruiting various people who could help make his vision a reality. In addition to his friends and colleagues he’d once worked with in the renewable energy and building sectors, Nick had set about recruiting people who could grow food, people who understood boats, people who could fish, plumbers, doctors etc.

However, there was one essential which Nick was less than enthusiastic about; defence. With civilisation having collapsed and the police being non existent, this new world was a very dangerous place and so, much as Nick didn’t like the thought of guns, he hired a gang, led by Mikey, to inhabit the lower floors of the skyscraper and protect them from any would be thieves chancing their luck.


From Daniel’s perspective, his father had thought of almost everything, apart from friends for Daniel who were his own age; with him being the only teenager amongst a community which otherwise included adults, smaller children and babies. One of the things Daniel does to pass the time is write his own comics; The Adventures of Aqualung. Within these comics Daniel introduces the reader to Aqualung, the protagonist, and a cast of Greek and Egyptian gods, increasingly angry at humanity, with the stakes being raised with each issue. The inclusion of these comics in the body of the novel provide variety and an insight into the imagination of a teenager attempting to make sense of the world as it now is.

Daniel soon meets somebody his own age though, and in quite the unexpected way. Having first been told by his father that he had probably seen his own reflection, Daniel eventually gets a handwritten message from the girl, named Rani, in the neighbouring tower. As they exchange messages back and forth, by means of drone, Daniel learns that she and her family are running out of supplies and is desperate to help, this willingness to help others being a character trait of his which comes to the fore at several points throughout the novel.

Showing his father Rani’s latest letter, Nick agrees that they should help the family, but that they should first discuss it at the committee meeting. These are held to discuss all aspects of life in the tower.

Perhaps predictably, isolation in the skyscraper and a fear of gangs (which as we later learn, isn’t an unfounded concern) leads to a less than positive reaction from members of the committee:

“Teulu? Sut bod ni heb weld nhw o’r blaen?”

“Sut fedri di fod yn siwr ei bod hi’n dweud y gwir?”

“Trap ydi o.”

“Gang, yn defnyddio’r ferch ‘ma i’n hudo ni yno.”

“Cynllwyn i ddwyn ein bwyd ni. I gymryd ein twr ni drosodd…”

“A family? How have we not seen them before?”

“How can you be sure she’s telling the truth?”

“It’s a trap”

“It’s a gang, using that girl to draw us over there.”

“A scheme to steal our food, to take over our tower…”

That last statement in particular drives home a dose of reality, echoing attitudes held by some with regards to refugees.


Fortunately for Rani and her family, once a party goes over to the other tower to ensure it’s safe and they are in genuine need of help, they’re escorted back across to their new home. Daniel had been keen to accompany them to the other tower, but Nick refused due to the potential dangers, which reveals another side to Daniel’s personality. Like any teenager, as keen as he is to show how grown up he is, his father’s response elicits childish frustration from Daniel, something, as with his willingness to help, the reader encounters more than once.

Soon after though, there’s another cause for concern, as Nick fails to return home from a trip to get some rice from a market held on an island known as Salt Island. Daniel, accompanied by Rani, slips away on the spare motorboat to search for him. They soon run into a gang of decidedly questionable characters known as the “Barracuda”. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the law around that stretch of water. They also seem to be acquainted with Nick, leaving the reader with questions as to how they know him, given Nick’s established aversion to guns and violence.

Things very soon take a turn for the worse however, and Daniel and Rani flee. Though the reader is left with a distinct impression this won’t be the last time the Barracuda are encountered.

Twists and turns

What follows is a challenging journey with plenty of twists and turns. Violence or the potential for violence, either due to the suspicion of others, shortages of fresh water or being caught up in a long running conflict, is never absent for very long.

Dolma has crafted a world which, though mostly covered in water, is very much alive in places such as the Salt Island, the Mainland, as well as the skyscraper which Daniel Rani, Nick and the others call home, where people, despite the hardships and battles they face, attempt to make the best of things, such as they are.

As much as I can’t recommend Y Nendyrau highly enough, I must confess to having been reminded of Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd by Islwyn Ffowc Elis whilst reading it, leaving me with something of a troubling thought. Will we act quickly enough to prevent the sea levels from rising faster than expected?

Y Nendyrau by Seran Dolma is published by Gwasg Y Bwthyn and is available from all good bookshops.

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