Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 301 pages, 2001

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: A book I heard good things about, but forgot about until I saw it on the shelf at the library.

Synopsis: Fuller, known to her friends as Bobo, tells the story of her childhood, where she grew up white in Africa during changing times of black power, revolution, and war. Her family survives by farming and moving around Africa, influenced as much by weather (floods, drought) as the political upheaval in the area.

Why you should read this book: Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words never read a short but vividly evocative paragraph of Fuller’s writing – there’s more of a sense of Africa in her words than in the snapshots at the beginning of each chapter. Everything feels honest, from gritty depictions of her family as well as their black servants, to the beauty of the unforgiving African climate. The carelessness of Bobo’s childhood is captured perfectly, as is the evolution of her awkward teen years to a strong, independent young woman. Engrossingly beautiful, even in the face of family tragedies and violence.

Why you should avoid this book: The candidness of Fuller’s childhood includes unapologetic racist attitudes towards the black people of Africa, especially from her mother. Her blunt attitude never asks to be forgiven, but it does evolve as she finds her own two feet away from her parents.

Opening paragraph:

Mum says, ‘Don’t come creeping into our room at night.’
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, ‘Don’t startle us when we’re sleeping.’
‘Why not’
‘We might shoot you.’
‘By mistake.’
‘Okay.’ As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. ‘Okay, I won’t.’

Fabulous quotes:

We ride on for two more hours. I slouch over in my saddle, letting myself rock lazily with Burma Boy’s tread. I make no attempt to herd the cows.
Mom scowls at me with irritation: ‘Ride your bloody horse.’
I flap my legs and pull weakly at the reins. ‘He won’t listen.’
‘Don’t be so bloody feeble.’
Fresh tears spring into my eyes. ‘I’m not being feeble.’
Mum says, ‘If you would help, we’d get home a lot sooner.’
We ride on in hostile silence for another half hour or so. Then I say,’I think I have buffalo bean.’ I start to scratch fretfully. I am so thirsty that my tongue feels dry and cracking. ‘I’m going to faint, I’m so thirsty.’
Mum circles back to catch a stray cow.

But most people are careful to keep their mouths shut. Mum says, ‘Never say anything derogatory about the government or the President.’
‘What if we’re alone?’
Mum sighs, as if the dense population of Malawi is pressing air out of her lungs. ‘We’re never alone here.’
People who disagree with His Excellency, the President for Life and ‘Chief of Chiefs,’ are frequently found to be the victims of car crashes (their bodies mysteriously riddled with bullets); or dead in their beds of heart attacks (their bodies mysteriously riddled with bullets); or the recipients of some not-quite-fresh seafood (their bodies mysteriously riddled with bullets).

Also Recommended: The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

Also by this author: Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier.

Awards: Book Sense Book of the Year, Adult Non-Fiction: Winner, 2003; Guardian First Book Award: shortlist, 2002.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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