Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Love from Boy

Title:  Love from Boy:  Roald Dahl's Letters to His Mother
Author:  Donald Sturrock (editor)
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2016. 336 pages.
ISBN:  039916846X / 978-0399168468

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Roald Dahl is widely acknowledged as one of the very greatest children's writers."

Favorite Quote:  "I won't write often. Cables and telephone are better."

James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Matilda. Fantastic Mr Fox. The BFG. These are some of the stories of my childhood. I grew up reading these stories. These are also the stories of my "parenthood" as I share them with my own children. Together, we have read the books, watched the movies, attended the shows, and then read the books again and again.

However, I know very little about the author Roald Dahl. So, I am delighted to have the opportunity came to learn about his life in his own words. From the 1920s as a schoolboy to his mother's death in the 1960s, Roald Dahl wrote his mother hundreds of letters. She kept them all, letters and envelopes.

This book is the compilation of these letters. These are a unique perspective on a life and a picture of a young man growing into a man. "Sofie Magdalene was Roald's first audience, but she was also his unacknowledged inspiration to become a writer. One might say Roald's own career as a storyteller begins in these letters."

One note about the book format. The book includes photographs with caption and scanned images of letters and envelopes. For the most part, however, the letters have been transcribed and misspellings corrected for readability "because while, in small doses,  his spelling mistakes can be amusing, over the span go a long book such as this, they can become irritating too." This editorial decision makes the book considerably easier to read.

The book is structured into eight sections, with each section accompanied by editorial notes about the salient details of Roald Dahl's life during that time period. Each section covers about two to four years from 1920s to the 1940s. The final section covers 1946 - 1965; the title "I won't write often" explains the length of time.

The letters begin with a schoolboy's letters home. So many begin with either a thank you to his mother for care packages or an apology for not writing. The youth of the writer comes through in the tone of the letters and the topics he deems letter-worthy. Roald Dahl's school experiences were not always happy ones. Some letters capture the seriousness of this time, but many are sure to leave you smiling. The letters end with a father writing of concerns about his wife and children and a son writing of concerns about his mother.  They speak of illnesses, injuries, and other pragmatic points of life. In between are letters on his work, his travel, his role as a pilot during World War II, and his sojourn in the United States.

The epistolary format is fascinating because it is such a personal reflection of thoughts. At the same time, the format means this is a one-sided conversation.  The editor's commentary provides the context and background for the letters. However, none of Sofie Magdalene's letters have ever been found. So, her side of the conversation will unfortunately never be heard.

What a lucky mother to have a child who was such a prolific, detailed correspondent! What a lucky son to have the inspiration of his mother! What lucky readers that the correspondence was preserved and is now shared.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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