I didn’t expect Roald Dahl’s account of life as a fighter pilot to interest me at all, but to my astonishment I found it gripping. It’s a real page-turner; I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter!
As always, his style of writing is a pleasure to read, and although most younger readers prefer his macabre tales of fantasy, this is well worth adding to their Dahl Library.
Both ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’ are the perfect way to introduce the developing younger reader to biographical/true-life stories, rather than remaining forever stuck in the magical realms of fantasy fiction. This book can be equally enjoyed by young and old alike … the sort of book a grandfather and grandson can read together!
on 28 July 2014
So I happened to stumble upon the autobiography 'Going Solo' of the legendary Roald Dahl. (a book that sits in my little sisters library of her growing Dahl collection) those of you who were his avid readers may well know about his adventures and exploits as a fighter pilot, who fought in world war 2 for the British RAF and Navy. He travelled across continents from Africa where he was an employee for shell, to combatant zones Europe and the middle east. Later on he would author many wonderful well known cherished stories such as; Matilda, James and the giant peach, the BFG, Charlie and the chocolate factory (to name just a few) the bulk of which portray spectacularly strong; child characters, challenging authority (dictatorial and bullish) figures.
Anyway going through the contents, my attention straight away drew to the chapter entitled 'Palestine and Syria'. It was fascinating reading about his adventures as a British fighter pilot combating the then 'pro-German', 'Vichy French' who had captured parts of the middle east causing widespread bloodshed and massacres.
But what was particularly interesting was his encounter with a Jewish refugee. He writes about an incident where he had a landing in the city of Haifa (in Palestine (now so-called Israel, which interestingly Roald Dahl didn't mention once, given that this autobiography was written well into his mature age, where the so called state of Israel was well established) This particular refugee came to Palestine from Germany and was comfortably settling onto a cornfield, aligned with fig trees in Palestinian territory, welcomed with open arms by the hospitable Palestinian farmers. (Probably feeling sorry for those hapless people, travelling from war torn areas, with the multitude of orphans accompanying them)
That encounter was insightful to say the least. It shows the determination of the Zionist Jew. A short enlightening narrative of the crafty way it all happened. My respect and appreciation of this great writer has grown. This book should be in every child's library. The evidence that Palestine did indeed exist and will continue to exist. The fact that Roald Dahl makes it very clear, in plain child-friendly terms, the absurdity of the mind-set of this Jewish refugee is laudable!
After further research I found that Dahl was accused of anti-Semitism and denied knighthood which he attributed to an incident where he wrote an apparently anti-Israel book review. Causing a wave storm of Jewish lobbying and spewing hate speech towards him. Where his writings were even boycotted and held with contempt. Here's an extract from the chapter. I really recommend this wonderful book, it's a must read (a book both parent and child can enjoy)
From Going Solo, the chapter titled "Palestine and Syria"
"You seem surprised to find us here," the man said. "I am," I said. "I wasn't expecting to find anyone."
"We are everywhere," the man said. "We are all over the country."
"Forgive me," I said, "but I don't understand. Who do you mean by we?"
I really didn't know what he was talking about. I had been living in East Africa for the pasts two years and in those times the British colonies were parochial and isolated. The local newspaper, which was all we got to read, had not mentioned anything about Hitler's persecution of the Jews in 1938 and 1939. Nor did I have the faintest idea that the greatest mass murder in the history of the world was actually taking place in Germany at that moment.
"Is this your land?" I asked him.
"Not yet," he said.
"You mean you are hoping to buy it?"
He looked at me in silence for a while. Then he said, "The land is at present owned by a Palestinian farmer but he as given us permission to live here. He has also allowed us some fields so that we can grow our own food."
"So where do you go from here?" I asked him. "You and all your orphans?"
"We don't go anywhere," he said, smiling through his black beard. "We stay here."
"Then you will all become Palestinians," I said. "Or perhaps you are that already."
He smiled again, presumably at the naivety of my questions.
"No," the man said, "I do not think we will become Palestinians."
"Then what will you do?"
"You are a young man who is flying airplanes," he said, "and I do not expect you to understand our problems."
"What problems?" I asked him.
"You have a country to live in and it is called England," he said. "Therefore you have no problems."
"No problems!" I cried. "England is fighting for her life all by herself against virtually the whole of Europe! We're even fighting the Vichy French and that's why we're in Palestine right now! Oh, we've got problems all right!" I was getting rather worked up. I resented the fact that this man sitting in his fig grove said that I had no problems when I was getting shot at every day. "I've got problems myself," I said, "in just trying to stay alive."
"That is a very small problem," the man said. "Ours is much bigger."
I was flabbergasted by what he was saying. He didn't seem to care one bit about the war we were fighting. He appeared to be totally absorbed in something he called "his problem" and I couldn't for the life of me make it out. "Don't you care whether we beat Hitler or not?" I asked him.
"Of course I care. It is essential that Hitler be defeated. But that is only a matter of months and years. Historically, it will be a very short battle. Also it happens to be England's battle. It is not mine. My battle is one that has been going on since the time of Christ."
"I am not with you at all," I said. I was beginning to wonder whether he was some sort of a nut. He seemed to have a war of his own going on which was quite different to ours.
I still have a very clear picture of the inside of that hut and of the bearded man with the bright fiery eyes who kept talking to me in riddles. "We need a homeland," the man was saying. "We need a country of our own. Even the Zulus have Zululand. But we have nothing."
"You mean the Jews have no country?"
"That's exactly what I mean," he said. "It's time we had one."
"But how in the world are you going to get yourselves a country?" I asked him. "They are all occupied. Norway belongs to the Norwegians and Nicaragua belongs to the Nicaraguans. It's the same all over."
"We shall see," the man said, sipping his coffee. â€¦
"You could have Germany," I said brightly. "When we have beaten Hitler then perhaps England would give you Germany."
"We don't want Germany," the man said.
"Then which country did you have in mind?" I asked him displaying more ignorance than ever.
"If you want something badly enough, he said "and you need something badly enough, you can always get it." He stood up and slapped me on the back. "you have a lot to learn," he said. "But you are a good boy. you are fighting for freedom. So am I"
on 13 January 2008
"Going Solo" is a the book which picks up where "Boy" left off with Roald on his way to East Africa to take up a job with the Shell Oil Company in Dar es Salaam. Roald Dahl is in Africa when World War II breaks out and he leaves Shell to join up with the RAF. This book details Dahl's wartime exploits, which include having a luger (a pistol) pointed at his head by the leader of a German convoy, crash-landing in no-man's land (and sustaining injuries that entailed having his nose pulled out and shaped!) and even surviving a direct hit during the Battle of Athens, when he was sufficiently recovered to fly again - this time in Hurricanes. The book features black-and-white photos, as well as maps, telegrams and other memorabilia. It is a fabulous book which is also one of my favourites. I would rate it 100000000000000/ 10. Anyone would love this stunning success.
If you know Roald Dahl only as an author of children's books, you should definitely read Boy, Tales of Childhood and this, Going Solo. Going Solo follows Dahl as he sets out as a 22 year old to live and work in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) for Shell. Whilst there, war is declared and Roald signs up for the RAF and begins flight training in Nairobi. His description of flying over the Serengeti in the early morning takes you back to a different time. One where Shell would pay your wages throughout the war to show their support, one where you had a 'boy' to do your ironing and washing. Once Dahl moves up to Libya and later, Greece, to join his new squadron, he captured the futility of war perfectly. Decisions made by people putting on a show put lives at risk and the sadness of losing a generation to war is captured beautifully but not by preaching or tugging at the heart strings. I told everyone I love that they must read this book as soon as I finished. You can be absorbed for a few hours and live another life, somewhere long ago and far away.