This is the second installment of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, and it covers the period from the time when the famous children’s author left home to work Shell Oil in East Africa, through his adventures as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II, concluding with his return home to England. In short it covers the earliest years of his adulthood, before he wrote such classic books for children as: “BFG,” “Matilda,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
In fifteen chapters, Dahl discusses his mysterious shipmate on the ship to Africa, a lion attack, an unwanted visitor in the form of a green mamba snake, and Dahl’s early experience of the war before he became a pilot. Becoming a pilot represents a shift in the book’s tone. From that point, it’s more of a war story, with the higher tempo of life and death situations that entails. That isn’t to say there’s no life and death in the first part, but it’s more quirky and humorous. In the chapters about his life as a pilot, Dahl describes crash landing in the desert and his subsequent recuperation, how he was posted to Greece where the German Air Force had a fleet of planes that made Britain’s look minuscule by comparison, and then his squadron’s move to Palestine to what would be his last battle-filled days before he was relieved from flight operations and sent home.
The stories throughout are as well crafted, as one might expect from a master storyteller. Dahl follows the advice (often-attributed to Elmore Leonard, but which has been around for decades in some words or another) to, “…leave out all the parts readers skip.” There is a tension throughout the book. It’s a much different approach than the previous volume, “Boy” which plays off the dramas of the adult-child interaction.
There are many graphics throughout the book, mostly black-and-white photos, but also maps and documents, but no other ancillary matter.
I’d highly recommend this book. If you want to know how to write a memoir that people will read, this is how it’s done. Dahl doesn’t try to take us from cradle to grave. He’s happy giving us the parts we won’t skip.