From the April/May 2017 issue of our magazine, Readers of Dementia together magazine tell us what they think about a daughter’s award-winning attempt to understand her father’s past.

A journey into uncharted territory

Dadland by Keggie Carew

Dadland has earned no shortage of attention since it was first published last year, with the 2016 Costa Biography Award topping off a string of enthusiastic reviews and recommendations.

Keggie Carew, its author, now lives in Wiltshire but has also called London, Ireland, Texas, Catalonia and New Zealand home. Her father, Tom, had an impressive war record – including in an elite Special Operations Executive ‘Jedburgh’ unit – and a complex family life. He died aged 89 in 2009, after living with dementia for years.

‘It is a moving, funny and honest account that talks not just of brave exploits, but also of fractious family relationships and the day-to-day realities of dementia,' says Sheila.

Sheila Walker, in our Dementia Knowledge Centre, says, ‘Dadland is a daughter’s attempt to know and understand her father, come to terms with the past, heal and forgive.

‘It is a moving, funny and honest account that talks not just of brave exploits, but also of fractious family relationships and the day-to-day realities of dementia. This includes Tom not recognising himself in the mirror and thinking the dinosaurs in a natural history programme are real.’

Woven together

Keith Oliver, who has Alzheimer’s and is one of our ambassadors, says, ‘Dadland is a fitting title, as the reader enters into Keggie’s dad’s world. It achieves this by weaving together his wartime exploits in France and Burma, his peacetime family life and finally his attempts to live with the onset of dementia.’

Janet Dandy, in Lancashire, says, ‘Throughout, the book describes the author’s emotional struggle with her father’s memory loss, which he developed in his 80s.

‘There is fascinating and detailed coverage of his life, gained from reminiscences, memorabilia and the author’s extensive research into historical military data, which gives a wonderful tribute to him.’

Sheila says, ‘Keggie is a natural storyteller whose prose evokes a strong sense of the character her father was, and his life as a Jedburgh and family man. Her style of flipping between distant past and 
later years, though slightly disjointed, makes for a lively and interesting read.

‘Unconventional, charismatic and resourceful, the qualities that made Tom successful during the war were also the ones that later contributed to the difficulties in his personal life.’

Alison Williams, a carer in West Yorkshire, also enjoyed the way that the writer ‘cleverly’ mixed the past and present within the narrative.

‘What an interesting chap Keggie’s dad is, what a fascinating life he led,’ she says. ‘It highlights what a dreadful condition dementia is, after a life lived to the full to then lose your memory.’

Well written

Janet describes the book as ‘extremely well written from a descriptive point of view’.

‘It contains both interesting and moving accounts of the Second World War, including her father’s heroic contribution to it, especially when he was an undercover guerrilla agent,’ she says. ‘I learned more about the war from reading this book than I ever learned at school.

‘However, I was especially touched by the contrast drawn between her father’s former intelligence and memory, his bravery and ingenuity, and his later symptoms including severe memory loss.

‘The book is illustrated with photographs, which makes it more personal. Overall it is a wonderful and poignant tribute to her father and an excellent read.’

Alison says, ‘The research that has gone into the book is extensive and interesting. It made me laugh and cry, and I have great admiration for the author.’

Sheila agrees, ‘Dadland is an intriguing and skilfully multifaceted account of Tom’s life and family relationships, identity, redemption and love.’

Keith has his own experiences of writing as the author of Walk the walk, talk the talk, and a contributor to the anthology Welcome to our world.

About Dadland he adds, ‘I learnt a lot from a book which justifiably earned the Costa Book Award.’

Dadland: A journey into uncharted territory by Keggie Carew (Vintage, 2017), 432 pages, £8.99, ISBN: 9781784703158.

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