A quick review this week for two books, but one story, and only about the first quarter of the whole story.
I’m talking about a life, the life of Roald Dahl.
I still don’t know everything about the man, but I am interested in a well-turned memoir, and Dahl’s “Boy” and the sequel, “Going Solo” are very interesting and entertaining.
That is not to say that his life was all fun and games. Much of “Boy” centers around his time in English boarding schools and sometime-horrors they were. (Actress Cate Blanchett hates the Harry Potter movies simply for the fact that they romanticize British boarding schools.)
Still, he told of the fun that he had and what he did get out of them. The tales are sometimes harsh, sometimes quite amusing. He told about his family life, and his yearly trips to see family in Norway. (Even though he is listed as a “British writer”, his bloodline was pure Norwegian.)
At the end of “Boy”, he skimmed through some years with the briefest explanations of the next few years after school. As in the rest of the book, there is a great deal of self-deprecating humor. He explained why he did not enter any university, (his mother offered Cambridge or Oxford, which were available to him), AND why he chose to go right into work and why, to his employers’ astonishment, he turned down a plum posting in Egypt. Then, to their further astonishment, he was enthusiastic about the next and final posting offered to him, one that no one else wanted, Africa.
The story of the long voyage there is in itself worthy of a play or movie, with all of the absolute characters he encountered in his fellow passengers. The others like him who went there to work, and seek their fortunes, the animals, and the Locals, all make for fascinating reading, (or in my case, listening).
As if all of these stories weren’t interesting enough, he describes the outbreak of World War Two. He tells how it affected him and others, and how he left his job to join the Royal Air Force, and how he convinced them to let him fly, even though they questioned the wisdom of it since he was six feet, six inches tall. (It did prove to be troublesome in some planes.)
I think that everyone knows that I am as far from a warmonger as one can get, but Dahl’s description of what he and the RAF went through, being undertrained, understaffed, and under-equipped, is mindboggling. The incredible odds that they faced being outnumbered many times over in Greece by the better-trained, well-manned Luftwaffe, which was also better-equipped with superior planes and guns, is nothing less than miraculous.
And all of that happened after Dahl made a death-defying recovery from injuries sustained from a horrific plane crash, from which he escaped almost supernaturally.
Since we all know that Roald Dahl had a long and complex life, it is no spoiler to tell you that Going Solo ends with him reaching his home and mother after those hardships, but since he went on to become an intelligence officer, a diplomat, a playwright, a screenwriter, a poet, an author, and, because of an injury that happened to his own son, was instrumental in the development of a brain shunt for hydrocephalic children, surely there is a lot more that he could have told us.
I would have loved to have read, (or listened to), all of it.
Still, these are incredibly well-crafted stories. I asked The Husband, who is a historian, to listen to one part of Dahl’s memories of the battle for Greece. He knew much about it, but the personal, intricate information intrigued him, and now he wants to listen to the rest. (He reads a great deal and is now learning to multitask, as I do, with audiobooks. An old dog can learn a new trick!)
If you only know Dahl’s children’s books, you may want to look into his other works, and I can tell you that these two are a good place to start,(and even to end).