This book is a collection of 10 short stories by Roald Dahl written during his days of being a fighter pilot. I loved Katina, Someone Like You, Death of an Old Man, Madame Rossetta, and Yesterday Was Beautiful.
Death of an Old Man
Oh God, how I am frightened.
Now that I am alone I don’t have to hide it; I don’t have to hide anything any longer.
What if you die just before the war gets over? There is so much you’ll have to lose. It’s not the same as dying just after the war starts.
Oh God, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die today anyway. And it isn’t the pain. I don’t mind having my leg mashed or my arm burnt off; I swear to you that I don’t mind that. But I don’t want to die. Four years ago I didn’t mind. I remember distinctly not minding about it four years ago. I didn’t mind about it three years ago either. It was all fine and exciting; it always is when it looks as though you may be going to lose, as it did them. It is always fine to fight when you are going to lose everything anyway, and that was how it was four years ago. But now we’re going to win. It is so different when you are going to win. If I die now I lose fifty years of life, and I don’t want to lose that. I’ll lose anything except that because that would be all the things I want to do and all the things I want to see; all the things like going to sleeping with Joey. Like going home sometimes. Like walking through a wood. Like pouring out a drink from a bottle. Like looking forward to week ends and like being alive every hour every day every year for fifty years. If I die now I will miss all that, and I will miss everything else. I will miss the things that I don’t know about. I think those are really the things I am frightened of missing. I think the reason I do not want to die is because of the things I hope will happen. Yes, that’s right. I’m sure that’s right.
This story captures the agony of a fighter pilot who is one the side that’s going to win the war, and he’s afraid of dying just before the war is over. He doesn’t want to lose the life that’s ahead of him. On his last flight, he combats a German pilot. Both of them fight beautifully, he struggles until he learns that there is no point of struggling at all.
I won’t struggle, he thought. There is no point in struggling, for when there is a black cloud in the sky, it is bound to rain.
An African Story
It’s a weird story that involves a crazy pilot who flies low to observe a stable antelope from the right side of the cockpit and gets his plane nearly crashed by hitting a giraffe from the left wing. He crashes in the middle of nowhere and meets an equally eccentric old man who lives with a black cow. This man tells him the craziest story he has ever heard. The story is very simple. The old man finds out that his farm help Judson has killed his dog since he was annoyed by the noise the dog was making. Judson is a serial dog killer, he has killed a lot of dogs in his life, and the old man detests Judson. One morning, when Judson goes to milk the old man’s black cow, he finds that there is no milk. In the evening there’s milk, but there’s no milk in the morning. The old man decided to stay awake all night, to catch the milk thief. At night, he sees that it’s a black mamba who’s stealing his milk. The next night, the old man asks Judson to help him catch the thief. He tells Judson to stay near the cow in a trench with a stick and wait for the time when the thief comes. Unaware of his faith, Judson waits. When the black mamba encounters Judson, mamba bites him, and he falls to the ground. The old man decides to let mamba have his share of the milk forever. It’s really a weird story of an old man’s revenge for his dog.
A Piece of Cake
Hallucinations and trepidations of a pilot who finds himself crashing from a flight he thought would be just a piece of cake.
Two pilots looking to meet girls for an evening at Cairo ring famed brothel-keeper Madame Rosetta but later change their mind to raid the brothel and save all the girls from Madame Rosetta.
A 9-year-old Greek girl is saved by a squadron, she has lost her parents in a bombing by Germans. She can’t speak English, but the squadron inducts Katina as a new member. Katina then becomes a silent spectator for the story, and the story unfolds with war anecdotes of squadron members. They move to different locations, some of them get killed, and eventually, the squadron loses Katina too.
Yesterday was Beautiful
An aviator whose plane has crashed in a Greek village is looking for a boat to go back to the mainland. He meets an old man who is wandering about the German bombers who keep coming to kill and destroy. He tells the aviator that he knows who has a boat in the village, and then he points him towards his house, telling him that at present, only his wife is at home, someone else’s home, because the home of the boatman was destroyed by the German bomber. His daughter was in the home when the Germans came. He tells him. The aviator goes to the wife of the boatman for help, and she asks him how many people has he killed in his life? The aviator says he cannot keep a count. The wife tells that her husband isn’t here, he’s out, and then she points at the old man sitting outside.
They Shall Not Grow Old
A pilot takes off for a reconnaissance flight, but doesn’t return back on time, he’s assumed to be dead. He then reappears a few days later.
Beware of the Dog
A pilot loses his leg while flying and crashes in the woods.
The pain of a mother whose son is fighting in the war. This story captures her restlessness and anxiety beautifully.
Someone Like You
This story is about the feeling of never knowing what would have happened with a subtle change of direction—a jink. This story is about jinking. If you have the joystick to kill in your hands while flying a bomber, and if you jink a little, what happens, who do you kill and who do you save? You never really know what would have happened. If you count to twenty before driving off, do you avoid accidents and save lives? Because you won’t hit the one who was supposed to step in front of your car twenty counts ago. It’s about two pilots sitting in a pub and drinking beer wondering that they have destroyed so many pubs like that, and so many people like the men and women and the waiters, all drinking in a pub. It’s a self-reflection of the choices they have made and their impacts.
‘Oh God, I wish I was a waiter or a whore or something.’