Originally published in the nineteen eighties, "Boy" and "Going Solo" were, sadly, Roald Dahl's only forays into autobiography.
"Boy" chronicles Dahl's early childhood as the son of Norwegian émigrés to England. It is by turns hysterically funny, touching, charming and always deeply entertaining. His account of a prank which incorporates a dead mouse, a gobstopper jar and a cantankerous sweet-shop owner had me in conniptions of laughter on public transport (as did another which incorporated Goat faeces disguised as Tobacco and an irritating uncle with a penchant for smoking a pipe). His descriptions of the barbarity he suffered during the course of a public school education in Interbellum England will no doubt shock many adults and children today - suffice it to say, the ominous maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child" was clearly a philosophy which was adhered too quite literally - but it is a uniquely fascinating insight into a vanished time and methodology.
"Going Solo" chronicles Dahl's burgeoning career as a Shell attaché in Dar Es Salaam, the outbreak of war, his enlistment in the RAF (and subsequent combat in the Aegean) and is as fascinating a tale as you could hope to read; It is at once a snapshot of the last days of the British Empire, a scathing indictment of Military Intelligence (the lapses in judgement that find Dahl and a handful of barely trained fighter pilots left to fend for themselves and "hold the line" against overwhelming and vastly more experienced Luftwaffe forces during the allied retreat from Greece are shocking), and a deftly touching coming of age tale; and while there are as many laughs to be found as in the previous volume, Dahl does not spare his readers the horrors of war or attempt to condescend to them. The parents of more sensitive children should perhaps bear this in mind before purchasing.
A fascinating volume which combines the formative experiences of a man who managed to squeeze the experience of several lifetimes into his allotted 'four score and ten' years, I recommend "Boy" and "Going Solo" unreservedly for children everywhere from ages eight to eighty five.