Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: historical fiction, short stories, World War II
Roald Dahl's ten early stories arise from his experiences as a wartime fighter pilot. They probe the minds of men living nightmares behind the nervy bonhomie of Ops room and Mess; men sent on one mission too many into chilling countries of the mind. (from the blurb)
Death of an Old Man : the weight of long war on one person could really be felt in this story which has a powerful, emotional, ending. Very good.
An African Story : a story within a story. I had an idea of how the second tale would end, but was a bit surprised to find that ended the whole piece. I expected more wrap up.
A Piece of Cake : Dahl's first short story, about a pilot's experience with crashing, led to him becoming a published writer. I think I can tell why, though I wonder if he ever cringed on re-reading it? I sometimes do, with some of my older work. I'd read this already in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (where the explanation of how it came into being is from; that wasn't included in this collection) but didn't mind reading it again.
Madame Rosette : I wasn't sure how this was going to go, as I read it - I was as nervous as one of the young main character pilots! I'm glad it ended how it did, though I wonder what the men really did with a certain list they made. The only thing I didn't really like was the way in which a Jewish woman was described with what we would today call anti-Semitic language.
Katina : this was an eye-opener for me because it's set in Greece during WWII. I haven't read - or heard - much about the fighting there, so it was great to do so in this story. I liked the squadron's camaraderie, felt for their chief particularly at one point, and liked the titular “Katina” very much.
Yesterday was Beautiful : it took a bit - like a few seconds after I'd reached the ending of this - for the plot to really sink in...but when it did, wow. The Greek setting was also a nice bit of continuity from the previous (and considerably longer) story.
They Shall Not Grow Old : I wasn't too keen on the ending of this, but I suppose in a way I could understand...such as one can, anyway. This was the first story that wasn't as 'realistic' as the others were throughout (to me the second part of the second story could possibly be a sort of tall tale).
Beware of the Dog : I liked it for the sort of 'situational awareness is a good thing' 'lesson', as well as for its point of view, which was quite different from the previous stories.
Only This : for me, probably the weakest story here. It was another one that was a departure from the 'realistic' take the others (except, as mentioned, the middle of “They Shall Not Grow Old”) had...but that wasn't a strong point for this one. The last few lines of the story are very evocative, but they don't save the whole work.
Someone Like You : this is another look at the mindset of pilots, and works by putting two of them side-by-side. Some of the things they said to each other made me want to join the conversation and ask 'wait, what if...”. Not as strong as the stories before it but better than “Only This”; at least “Someone Like You” was engaging.
My favourite stories in this are the ones that are linked by common characters. Not that the standalone ones are any less affecting (the first story is the main case in point); they are, but it's always nice to see a character that was in a previous story, particularly if it's from a new point of view.
Each story here brought out a different aspect of being a pilot in World War II, and in some places it's quite clear that the descriptions *work* because they're from experience.
Overall, a strong set of stories with only a few misses.