Going Solo by Roald Dahl (1986) 210 p.

Roald Dahl was a British author most well-known for his children’s novels – Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG and so on – but he also wrote short stories for an older audience, and had a very interesting life. Going Solo is an autobiography that covers his experiences living in East Africa in the 1930s and then serving as a fighter pilot in the RAF during World War II.

The book isn’t long and Dahl writes in an extremely simple style, so it almost does feel as though this is a children’s novel, albeit one with people getting shot in the head. This makes it quite an easy and enjoyable read, and I breezed through it in about two days. There’s a definite feeling of adventure to it, set as it is on the fringes of the British colonial empire during its last great era. Scattered throughout the book are original documents that enhance this feeling – maps, handwritten letters, steamship schedules, black and white photographs and so on – and Dahl even acknowledges on the first page that this isn’t just nostalgia, but a genuine opinion that everything was more adventurous back then:

The voyage from the Port of London to Mombasa would take two weeks and on the way we were going to call in at Marseilles, Malta, Port Said, Suez, Port Sudan and Aden. Nowadays you can fly from London to Mombasa in a few hours and you stop nowhere and nothing is fabulous anymore, but in 1938 a journey like that was full of stepping stones and East Africa was a long way from home, especially if your contract with the Shell Company said that you were to stay out there for three years at a stretch.

His life in East Africa lasts for only a few chapters before World War II breaks out, and he trains as a pilot and is sent to fight in the eastern Mediterranean. He survives a crash in Libya, participates in the Battle of Athens and becomes one of only ten pilots to escape from Greece alive, and it’s all terribly exciting, by Jove.

Even if you’ve never read anything by Roald Dahl, or are skeptical that a children’s authour might offer up anything more mature, Going Solo is an easily readable insight into a fascinating period of history, and I highly reccommend it.