As Thomas Carew lost his memory to dementia, his daughter embarked on a search to find a man she hardly knew.
Throughout her childhood, Carew reveals in her captivating debut memoir, her father was a man who could fix anything and solve any problem. Energetic, ingenious, and charming, he was also unconventional (cheering her occasional truancy from school, for example) and no stickler for decorum or rules. She knew he had been a spy, but until she began to assemble the pieces of his life, she had little idea what that meant. In fact, during World War II, he had been a member of the Jedburghs, an elite international corps that parachuted into France to aid the resistance fighters and into Burma to hold back the Japanese. “I was one of the first good terrorists,” Tom later told an interviewer. In charge of “ambushes, explosives, and small-arms instructions,” he engaged in missions that were chaotic and frighteningly dangerous. But among Jedburghs and other guerrilla fighters, and when leading his team into Japanese-occupied Burma, he claimed to feel more alive than he ever would feel again. Burma proved much more challenging than France. “To start with,” writes the author, “it would be impossible for the Jeds to blend in; and even if they kept themselves hidden, their great big footprints would give them away.” Carew recounts the Jedburghs’ role in Burmese political upheaval, smoothly weaving that narrative into her family’s unsettled history. Her mother was the second of Tom’s wives, an unstable, unhappy woman who railed against marriage to a man who seemed destined for financial ruin. Carew’s childhood was “curdled with anger…I don’t remember anything but discord.” After Tom left the military, he suffered repeated business failures that left his wife and children vulnerable. The couple eventually divorced, and Tom remarried. Carew is as vicious in her portrayal of this possessive, controlling stepmother as she is empathetic to her father’s loss of his adventuresome past and, more tragically, sense of identity.
A tender evocation of an extraordinary life.