Running the Rapids: A Writer’s Life
By: Kildare Dobbs
Poet, travel writer, teacher, film-extra in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, quiz-show panellist -Kildare Dobbs has played many parts, been many places, met many people. His life’s journey, marked by frequent detours and diversions, from Asia to old Europe, Africa and the New World, is that of the quintessential post-colonial Western man at large.
In Running the Rapids Dobbs becomes voyageur. He takes us from a lamp-lit, big house childhood in 1930s Kilkenny, to college days at Cambridge in thrall to Carl Jung and Wilhelm Reich, to commando training and naval service protecting Allied convoys from U-boat attack during World War II. Then began his time from 1948 to 1952 as district officer in Tanganyika, where he learnt Swahili beneath the ‘immense, unearthly bulk’ of Kilimanjaro and was falsely imprisoned for ivory theft.
He then moved to Canada to work at Macmillan publishers, co-founding The Tamarack Review and becoming managing editor of Saturday Night magazine from 1965 to 1967. During the seventies he was both columnist and books editor of the Toronto Star. He recounts his friendships with writers Brian Moore, Richard Wright and Mordecai Richler, and with Ronald Searle, Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Thesiger, among others. And nothing if not uxorious, this modern-day troubadour enters the lists of time and again throughout the narrative, finding his peace the third time around.
Dobbs’s self-portrait vividly evokes the world of a restless man of letters, Rousseauesque in its foibles and candour, Johnsonianly pungent in its observations, Shandean in its sense of the absurd. ‘In memory and imagination’, he writes, ‘there is no time: all is simultaneous.’ This poignant and delightful chronicle sets out to reinforce that perception.
KILDARE DOBBS was born in India in October 1923, raised in Ireland, and educated in Dublin, Cambridge and London. He served in the Royal Navy during World War II and in East Africa, before migrating to Canada in 1952. There he earned a living in journalism and publishing, wrote Running to Paradise (1962), ‘autobiography honoured as fiction’ that won a Governor General’s Award, concocted The Great Fur Opera (1970), a subversive vision of Canadian history, with the artist Ronald Searle, and broadcast regularly on CBC radio and television. The Eleventh Hour (1997) was his first volume of poetry. He is recipient of the Canadian National Magazine Award and in 2000 was invested with the Order of Ontario, and made writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in 2002.