Book Review: Dadland by Keggie Carew

Two very different dramas are brought together in Dadland. One is the story of a daughter losing the charismatic and contrarian father she knew to dementia. The other is that of a young man parachuted behind the lines in Nazi-occupied France to organise the resistance and, having escaped the Germany army, sent to Burma to lead guerrilla attacks against the Japanese. The combination of family drama, war-time exploits of the SOE and Keggie Carew’s meticulous historical research makes this biography of her father a compelling read.

The figure at the heart of Dadland is the author’s father, Tom Carew, born in Dublin in 1919. The reader is introduced to Tom as an elderly man losing his identity through dementia and his daughter’s efforts to hang on to him. The death of his domineering third wife had renewed the relationship between father and daughter – only for Tom to start to lose his memory. Tom struggles to recognise his family, let alone his past as an agent of the Special Executive Operative (SOE) deployed during WW2 in Operation Jedburgh and, later, in Burma.

Keggie Carew was moved by her father’s dementia to tell the story of his dramatic experiences as a young man during WW2. At 24-years-old, Tom Carew was parachuted into France in an operation involving co-operation between the British, US, French and Belgians to undertake the perilous task of working with the resistance in espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance operations. He would later escape from the Germany army through a sewer. Subsequently, he was deployed in Burma, where he orchestrated ambushes against the Japanese army, earning himself the nickname, “Lawrence of Burma.”

“Dad’s response to pretty much everything was usually different to everyone else’s response. Rules were there, not just to be broken, but to pit yourself against, to outwit. It was an intellectual exercise for him.”

Keggie Carew interweaves flashbacks of her life with her father with his immensely dangerous guerrilla warfare work with the SOE. One moment, in the book, he is parachuted into France under cover of night, unsure if his reception is the Gestapo ready to execute him. The next moment, we are told of a time when Tom urinated in a bar sink having been unable to find a toilet.

The meticulousness of the author in her observations of Tom Carew the father, husband and secret agent bring both the character and the history to life. The reader gets a sense of his humour, insouciance, brilliance, flaws and the effects of his struggles with dementia. That same care for detail by the author makes the history told of the SOE operations vivid and insightful. The book is a wonderful tribute, drama and history rolled into one.

Further information

Author Book Signing – Keggie Carew will be signing copies of her book, Dadland, at the Imperial War Museum London on Saturday 12th November 2016.

Guardian review of Dadland by Keggie Carew:

Video interview with Keggie Carew:

Interview with Keggie Carew – Gloss Magazine


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