Review of Michael Palin’s audiobook “Great-Uncle Harry” – a personal account of the First World War.
Michael Palin, known for his role in the comedy group Monty Python and now a TV documentary maker, has always enjoyed sharing stories about his family. This can be seen through his published diaries, which currently span three volumes, and his film American Friends. The film tells a fictionalized version of the courtship between Palin’s great-grandfather, who was a professor at Oxford, and his American wife. In his latest work, Great-Uncle Harry, Palin shifts his focus to Henry William Bourne Palin, also known as Harry. Harry passed away at the age of 32 during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Palin’s interest in his great-uncle was sparked by a cousin who gave him a collection of family items, including photographs. One particular photo caught Palin’s attention – it showed a young man wearing a military uniform and a wide-brimmed hat, with a guarded look at the camera. Years later, while working on a documentary about the end of World War I, Palin came across Harry’s name on a war memorial in the Somme battlefield. This discovery drove him to learn more about his great-uncle’s life and service.
With his narration, Palin maintains the same inquisitive tone and charming charisma that he brings to his TV travel shows. It is a challenging task to piece together the story of Harry, who was a minor figure in a major war, as he was the youngest and least ambitious member of an accomplished family, and struggled to find his purpose in life. Harry’s diary entries about his experiences during the war were brief and lacking in detail, but Palin manages to construct a timeline of his movements and uncover how the war shaped Harry’s life, like it did for many others of his generation.
Michael Palin’s Great-Uncle Harry is available in audio format from Penguin, with a duration of 7 hours and 46 minutes.
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