I donât usually devote the whole blog to a single book, but this one really is something special. ‘Dadland‘ by Keggie Carew is an amazing read: touching, absorbing and altogether the kind of book I love and press (no doubt irritatingly) onto friends and family – and now you, dear reader.
This is whyÂ I buy paper books, so you can pass copies on while your own enthusiasm is still white hot. While you can send a handy link or encourage friends to download a copy of your latest crush, in practice they neverÂ get round to it. But if you hand over a paper copy, common politeness demands that the recipient at least skim through a few pages and then if your recommendation is sound they will be hooked just as you were. And the cycle continues.
‘Dadland’ is a father-daughter story, a tragedy of descent into senility, a quest to connect and – most importantly for family historians – an almost perfect example of how a personal family story, told well, can resonate and reach a wider audience. Keggieâs father Tom was a Jedburgh, a maverick Special Operations Executive operative whose wartime ingenuity and heroism lost itsÂ purpose in peacetime, leaving him foundering. He couldnât settle and the family fractured. Tom moved on, married again and lost the connection with his children. When his second wife, the much-resented stepmother, dies, Keggie sees an opportunity to reconnect with her father. But he is no longer the man he was; he isÂ descending into Alzheimer’s. The dashing Irish colonel who blew up Gestapo railway depots, the ‘Lawrence of Burma’ who worked with guerrillas inÂ the Burmese jungle, is now reduced to carrying slips of paper to remind himself of his own name. What she can do however is connect with his past and use this as a bridge between them:
‘…as dad slowly leaves us , I try to haul him back-from the bottom of cardboard boxes and forgotten trunks; from letters buried in desks; from books I previously had not known about; from photographs I am unfamiliar with; from diaries never meant for my eyesâŠ I donât know why Iâve taken on this taskâŠ except that suddenly I need to make some sense of it all. Itâs not just dad I want to stick back together again. This is an exorcism. And a ghost hunt. Rebuild him. Rebuild me.’