Kay's Reviews > Going Solo

Going Solo by Roald Dahl
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's review
Sep 09, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: biogr-memoir, world_war_ii, africa, nonfiction
Read from September 09 to 10, 2010

Roald Dahl was a noted raconteur, which is abundantly clear in this wartime memoir, which takes off where his childhood memoir, Boy, left off. Written for young adults, the book nevertheless has considerable appeal for adults, particularly in his narration of his exploits as an Shell employee in British East Africa (Kenya) and then as an RAF pilot after World War II broke out.

There are many thrilling episodes -- everything from man-eating lions and encounters with deadly mamba snakes in the British East African chapters, to his training as an RAF pilot and subsequent dogfights against a far numerous enemy over the skies of Greece. Sprinkled throughout the text are photos that Dahl, a keen amateur photographer, took, as well as extracts from his letters to his mother, who kept every one of them.

Dahl recounts his experiences in a direct, commonsense way, advancing the story in snatches of remembered conversations. There is, in short, a good deal of the novelist at work on these memoirs. In fact, I had some slight misgivings about just how accurate his descriptions and remembered conversations were, for since reading this book I've started reading another book about rather than by Dahl, which concerns his work as an operative in Washington, D.C. during the war after he was pastured out by the RAF due to injuries he'd sustained as a pilot. He was, to make a long story short, not below bending the truth when it suited him.

There's an undeniably jaunty tone to Dahl's writing, not to mention an unspoken (almost taken for granted) sense of British fortitude and self-restraint. Although he does permit himself the liberty of being critical of the air command's more egregious blunders, there's an unmistakable stoicism in his description of harrowing events, such as crashing in the desert in Libya and narrowly surviving by crawling away from the wreckage of the burning plane before passing out. These vivid descriptions are thrilling stuff. Roald Dahl's is one of the more striking wartime memoirs I've read.

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