Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew
|Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Quite my favourite book of 2016: history fleshed out with the personal. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432/13h22m||Date: July 2016|
|Publisher: Chatto and Windus|
Winner of the Costa Biography Award 2016
Keggie Carew is the second child of a most unorthodox father. On the one hand he's a left-handed stutterer with little to recommend him other than that he was a law unto himself and a complete maverick. But - born in 1919, the second world war found him being tested for SOE, Churchill's secret army, who were tasked with conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and later in South East Asia. Within a matter of months he would be parachuted into occupied France with the aim of supporting resistance groups ahead of the allied invasion of occupied France and carrying the rank of major - at the age of just 24. Later, in South East Asia he would be known as 'Lawrence of Burma' and worked with Aung San, the head of the Burma Defence Army (and father of Aung San Suu Kyi)and was at one stage plucked off the Irrawaddy by a flying boat, like James Bond.
Returning home, he lost none of his irresistible charm, which he would have to the end of his days, but the market for his competencies was limited in the fifties and sixties. Jobs just never seemed to work out and a shortage of money inevitably created the need for more expenditure. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the situation (including inviting his father to live with the family without discussing it first with his wife) contributed to the mental decline and hospitalisation of his second wife. The family so nearly broke up at this point.
An elderly Tom Carew had dementia following some minor strokes and it was an attempt to 'give Dad some memories', to piece him back together, which started Keggie on the search for the man who was her father but who, towards the end of his life became a mobile baby who needs constant attention. He had been the youngest officer ever to be awarded the DSO and also received the Croix de Guerre but was very understated about it - they came down with the rations.
It's a story that's as much about the strengths and constraints of family as about Carew's wartime exploits and it's hard not to be carried away by the tales of derring do. Keggie Carew describes it well - we get the 'blood-red teeth of it as well as the moments of pure farce. Normally I'll go to great lengths to avoid reading about war (either in fiction or non-fiction) but I was absolutely riveted to the extent that I bought an audio download of the book (which I paid for myself) for when I was simply too tired to read on but unwilling to put the book down.
It would have been easy to deliver a linear story but Carew is agile: we get an elegant mix of Major Carew's wartime exploits, Keggie's childhood and Tom Carew's old age. It works perfectly and no part of the telling overstays its welcome. Without a shadow of a doubt it's the best book I've read this year - and It's one to which I'll return.
The story has stayed in my mind and it's provoked a lot of thought. Keggie Carew sums up my first reaction: I am ashamed of what we haven't done with our freedom and their victories … With our central heating and our power steering and our fast food and our leaf-blowers and our shopping malls. Instead we have a situation where you don't have to listen very carefully to hear fascism marching towards us.
There's a sobering thought too: if the operations which Tom Carew led took place today and were directed against us, what he did would be called terrorism. This took me on to the thought that we don't treat returning soldiers well: it's bad enough that we expect them to risk their lives for us, worse still that we ask them to kill for us, but then we don't look after them well when we return. There need to be some acceptance of the fact that the daredevil guerilla isn't suited to peace. I don't know the answer.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.
For more on present-day Burma, have a look at Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers and The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham.
You could get a free audio download of Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.