Brian Dawtrey


humourous (old) man

[note: I’ve been reading the English original]

The story: we’re at the end of World War II, and Brian Dawtrey is a young man from England who is crazily in love with a girl. He writes her a ton of letters.


Four years later, Dawtrey has married the girl and his living with her on a farm. They have children. It’s a version of European farm life in the 1950s.


We’re now at he beginning of the 1960s. It’s the end of the colonial age, and for some reason, Dawtrey has decided to take his family to East Africa, to what today is called Tanzania. They stay there for a few years. There is work to be done (Dawtrey is responsible for an agricultural project), there are languages to be learned, and there is wildlife to be discovered. So far so good.

a trilogy?

This book is a bit weird. First of all, Dawtrey (or the publisher) chose to call it a “trilogy”, when it actually consists of:

  • one main story (the years in Africa)
  • one small story (the farm years in England)
  • and a collection of letters (from young BD to his girlfriend)

Not exactly a trilogy. I found the letters a bit difficult to read, and while I was waiting for the actual story to start, I found myself thinking that maybe the editors should have used these letters to intersperse the text here and there.

The years in England were amusing to read, but they felt more like a collection of random anecdotes than a coherent story.

The part about Africa was a bit similar in this sense, but there seemed to be a bit more of a storyline. Only a bit though. All in all, there is not much in this book to keep the reader motivated. You read on, yes. But you’re definitely not hooked.

Brian Dawtrey looking back at things

It’s difficult to judge this book. There are flaws, yes. But Dawtrey comes across as a charming guy, and there are times when his writing is very witty and humorous. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between him and the other members of his family, and some of his observations were pretty original.

But I do think that this book needs some editing. Right now it feels as though we are just listening to Dawtrey reflect on some random episodes from his life, which makes for good dinner conversation but not necessarily for a good book.

who might want to read this

Dawtrey’s feat of taking his family to East Africa in the 1960s is cool. His storytelling isn’t that good, but his writing style can be entertaining sometimes. The information he provides is okay.

If you’re interested in a foreign perspective on post-colonial East Africa, you might want to read this.

Also read: Nigel Barley, for a genuinely funny look at the expat experience in Cameroon.