17 MARCH 1961, Page 26

Tell Me About Yourself

The Promised Land: Memoirs of Shmuel Dayan. Edited by Yael Dayan. Translated by Sidney Lightman. (Routledge, 25s.) Land of the Black Buffalo. By Paul Smiles. (Faber, 16s.)

.1-1's not often you find yourself muttering. 'You swine,' at someone's autobiography. Perhaps you

can't reasonably expect a man who has spent a lifetime in orbit with his sunnier face to the world and his darker side hidden suddenly to lose all reticence when he sits down to his memoirs. But the result, very often, is a book which is far less self-revealing than a novel would be in its incalculable side-effects. Fre- quently. too, it is the one book which the author. like everyone else, is told he has in him; and the lack of practice tells in the bookishness. the irrelevance and the disorder with which this in- creasingly popular class of writing abounds.

Of the five books of memoirs here, Eric Bligh's Faintly Smiling Mouth, though it has the

faults of its kind, is certainly the most painfully vivid. Mr. Bligh is an acute stammerer, and he deals mainly with the effect this disability had

on his life as a young man in the years just before the First World War, and particularly on his strained and unsuccessful courtship of the Streatham Gioconda to whom he alludes in the title. He treats this theme, when he sticks to it, engagingly enough, with a watery irony, bilt otherwise he is maddeningly inconsequential. When you want to know about his day-to-day circumstances, just exactly what his friends did for a living, things like that, he becomes elusive. Instead he offers evocations of South London (all right by me, I was born in Thornton Heath, but not everyone has that advantage), waspish little sallies, at styles of church architecture and discursions on some understandably forgotten Georgian writers.

Reginald Payne's The Watershed begins omin- ously with seagulls outside the study window and talk of the elusive 'I,' but fairly rapidly loses its self-consciousness and settles into an extro- vert account of life in a vegetarian, Unitarian family in Northampton at the start of the century. It could have been a lot more selective, but the random details of the household finally make a powerful impression : the father sending his son to bed wrapped in a wet sheet as a remedy for jaundice, and warning him against the sausage rolls that wait to ensnare him at parties, the endless conversations about Emanuel Sweden- borg, Madame Blavatsky and the Uric Acid Evil, and the holidays at fish-less, fowl-less boarding houses. Mr. Payne, in fact, is at his best when most self-forgetful, and it is in his por- traits of other people that the 'I' he was so worried about comes through most sympathetic- ally.

Robert Harbinson begins Up Spake the Cabin Boy with his return at fourteen from evac- uation in Fermanagh and his enrolment in the Belfast shipyards, and ends with his departure for England in an Anthony Eden and striped trousers where he is to train as a missionary. It's hard to believe that the writer of this busy, ex- citable, sharp-witted book ever got there; in fact, as his boat sailed, he was already throwing away the shells of the hard-boiled eggs on which his girl-friend had written Bible texts.

Shmuel Davan's life is an index to the last half-century of Israel's development. He came to Palestine from the Kiev region in 1908 to work like an Arab in the fields; he joined a kibbutz. then, sensing its limitations. helped to form a moshav, the looser co-operative which could provide not only for the few—and those. young. hardy and unattached—but for the heavier waves of immigrants to come, the families and the recalcitrants; he is now a veteran member of the Knesset. His son is Moshe Dayan, the eye- patched commander of the Sinai campaign; and his grand-daughter is Yael Dayan, the novelist. Miss Dayan, who edited The Promised Land, linking up her grandfather's memoirs and letters, has not quite been able to form them into a self- suflicient personal narrative, but has produced an entertaining and valuable source-book. Paul Smiles's Land of the Black Buffalo is a lush idyll of the game ranger's life in Bechuanaland: tsetse flies. lions at the foot of the bed, droughts and the like. Modest and enthusiastic but not, somehow, very endearing.