Daugh­ter wins Costa book prize for story of fa­ther with de­men­tia

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE - By HAN­NAH FUR­NESS

When her fa­ther was 86, Keg­gie Carew found a note in his pocket read­ing: “My name is Tom Carew, but I have for­got­ten yours.”

For any daugh­ter, it would ce­ment the creep­ing fear that a much-loved par­ent was suc­cumb­ing to de­men­tia.

For Carew, it was also the start of a ten-year jour­ney to piece to­gether his his­tory be­fore it was too late.

As her fa­ther’s mem­ory failed him, the first-time au­thor set about scour­ing per­sonal archives, mil­i­tary mu­se­ums and her fa­ther’s own some­times mud­dled rec­ol­lec­tions to un­cover a fam­ily his­tory, com­mit­ting the highs and lows to pa­per in a part de­tec­tive story, part mem­oir.

She was last night an­nounced as the win­ner of the Costa Bi­og­ra­phy Award, af­ter em­bark­ing on a painstak­ing re­search project to tell the true story of the life of the man nick­named Lawrence of Burma for his heroic ex­ploits dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Her book, Dad­land: A Jour­ney Into Un­char­tered Ter­ri­tory, has been hailed “hi­lar­i­ous and heart­break­ing” by judges, who se­lected it as one of five cat­e­gory win­ners of the Costas.

Other win­ners in­clude Brian Conaghan, a for­mer pain­ter and dec­o­ra­tor who was fi­nally pub­lished af­ter re­ceiv­ing 217 re­jec­tion let­ters, who won the Chil­dren’s Book Award for The Bombs That Brought Us To­gether.

Se­bas­tian Barry took the best novel award for the sec­ond time with Days With­out End, while Alice Oswald won the poetry prize with Fall­ing Awake and Fran­cis Spufford won the first novel award for his his­tor­i­cal fic­tion Golden Hill.

All five are now in the run­ning for the over­all prize, to be an­nounced later this month.

Carew, who pre­vi­ously worked as a vis­ual artist, said she had ex­pe­ri­enced a “great sense of re­lief ” af­ter learn­ing she had been recog­nised by the prize, adding: “It’s a lovely feel­ing that the book has res­onated with other peo­ple in such a strong way.”

She added her fam­ily his­tory had been the “ele­phant in the room which stamped its foot” as she had con­sid­ered what to write, re­solv­ing to start re­search­ing in earnest af­ter notic­ing her fa­ther had writ­ten notes to him­self in a bid to “out­wit” his de­men­tia.

Lt Col Carew would be “thrilled” at parts of the book, and would have ig­nored the more dif­fi­cult de­tails about his fam­ily life, she added, jok­ing: “He was not at all mod­est. He was be ut­terly amazed that this has hap­pened.”

His obit­u­ary in 2009, pub­lished in the Tele­graph, de­scribed him as a “nat­u­ral leader with great charm and a hor­ror of the hum­drum” who “liked to stir things up”.

He was known to have served in the Sec­ond World War as part of a Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive unit called “The Jed­burghs”, dropped into Burma with a 55-year-old guide book and a bag of opium for cur­rency be­fore re­cruit­ing a guerilla force to out­fox the Ja­panese.

De­scribed var­i­ously as the Lawrence of Burma and the “Mad Ir­ish­men” for his ef­forts, he won the DSO and the Croix de Guerre be­fore re­tir­ing from the army in 1958 for a var­ied and not al­ways suc­cess­ful ca­reer in business.

Carew’s re­search be­gan in earnest af­ter she es­corted her fa­ther to a Jed­burgh re­union in 2006, notic­ing he was start­ing to lose his mem­ory.

Ask­ing him to tell her every­thing he could re­call about his “mad­cap” life, she went on to piece the in­for­ma­tion to­gether with ex­ten­sive archives found in his attic, and newly-re­leased of­fi­cial records in which he was men­tioned.

“You start rub­bing the lamp a bit and the ge­nie pops out: things just kept fall­ing in my lap,” she said. “The more I found out, the more amaz­ing it was.”

Boxes in her fa­ther’s house con­tained news­pa­per clip­pings dat­ing back to the war, di­aries and buried let­ters de­tail­ing his life.

Fur­ther re­search took Carew to the Na­tional Archives, Im­pe­rial War true. But she al­ways un­der­stood the ba­sic hu­man thirst for gos­sip, and ex­isted in a whis­per­ing aura of heady, un­ver­i­fi­able pos­si­ble scan­dal.

For the last year, and well into her tenth decade, Zsa Zsa’s fam­ily had re­ported that she had been largely un­con­scious, be­set by re­peated ill­ness.

Her daugh­ter, Francesca Hil­ton, died of a stroke in early 2015 at the age of 67, and Zsa Zsa was re­port­edly unaware of her death. Zsa Zsa was par­tially paral­ysed af­ter a car ac­ci­dent in 2002, en­dured sev­eral of her own strokes, and had a leg am­pu­tated fol­low­ing an in­fec­tion.

Ear­lier in 2016 she was hos­pi­talised for breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and was sched­uled to un­dergo surgery on her lungs a few days af­ter her 99th birth­day.

Even be­fore her most se­ri­ous ill­nesses set in, in her later life she rarely gave in­ter­views. When she did grant an in­ter­view to Van­ity Fair in 2007 she gave curt an­swers from atop a mound of pil­lows on a four-poster di­van, near a gilded grand piano.

“The minute I un­der­stand a man, he is no longer ex­cit­ing and a chal­lenge to me,” she once said. “And the last thing in the world I want is for a man to un­der­stand me and know what’s al­ways go­ing on in­side my head.”

Her wit be­lied her air­head im­age. As her health faded, so did the glitz and glam­our of a per­son­al­ity who de­fined an age. But for Zsa Zsa Ga­bor, dy­ing wasn’t some­thing to worry about. Love, glam­our and entertainment were far more press­ing: “Don’t ever buy im­i­ta­tion furs,” she once said. “Be­cause that’s worse than death.” Mu­seum and Bri­tish Li­brary, with she found videos and au­dio files star­ring her fa­ther, in­clud­ing one mem­o­rable film which saw him swag­ger­ing out of the Burmese jun­gle aged 24.

Trunks, card­board boxes and desk draw­ers re­vealed a Christ­mas card from the head of the CIA, while the re­lease of clas­si­fied SOE files al­lowed the au­thor to match Lt Col’s colour­ful anec­dotes with real-life dates, places, code names and op­er­a­tional de­tails on papers stamped Top Se­cret.

The book also tells of the Carews com­pli­cated fam­ily life, in­clud­ing the break­down of her mother.

“I de­cided that if I was go­ing to tell a story like this, I wasn’t go­ing to cen­sor any­thing,” said Carew. “It’s a very ex­tra­or­di­nary story but it’s also very universal when it comes to fam­ily, de­men­tia and re­la­tion­ships.”

Carew and her fel­low cat­e­gory win­ners will re­ceived £5,000 each, with the over­all win­ner of the Costa Prize will be an­nounced in Lon­don on Jan­uary 31.

It’s a lovely feel­ing that the book has res­onated with other peo­ple in such a strong way.” Keg­gie Carew, au­thor


who has died aged 99, found suc­cess in the golden age of Hol­ly­wood. The Hun­gar­ian-born “blond bomb­shell” was a pioneer modern celebrity — in­fa­mous for hav­ing been mar­ried nine times and call­ing ev­ery­one she met “dahling”.

Zsa Zsa Ga­bor,

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