Book Review: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Title: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Year Published: 2003
Source: I purchased this book

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller, is the author’s account of growing up in the countries of Rhodesia , Malawi and Zambia. Fuller’s family was originally from England, where Alexandra was born. Her family moved to Africa during a time of great unrest. Rhodesia was still white-ruled, but at the tail-end of British colonialism. The parents like to live in isolated areas, far away from towns and cities.

However, Fuller’s parents were not rich, titled landowners, but rather poor farmers barely eking out an existence. Of course, they still had black servants. Even if Rhodesia didn’t have an official “apartheid” which in Afrikaans means “apartness”, everything is separate. The different races go to different schools, stores, and hospitals.

Alexandra and her sister Vanessa are shaped by the racist attitudes of their parents and the white society around them. After all, why would she question it? That is all she knows. Even though she grows up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there is no television in her house, the only radio broadcasts seem to be from the BBC, and most of the people she meets on a daily basis are her family and the black servants.

Those blacks fighting for independence are considered “terrorists”.

So life is tough for everyone:

Vanessa and I, like all the kids over the age of five in our valley, have to learn how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill.

Fuller also loves Africa. The book is filled with rich imagery and poetic language:

What I can’t know about Africa as a child (because I have no memory of any other place) is her smell; hot sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft. It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass.

This story is fascinating, mostly taking place during the time of the Rhodesia Civil War, when blacks decided that they wanted their land back and to rule, which is what eventually happened (Rhodesia is now called Zimbabwe). Eventually, their land is taken away from the family and eventually the Fullers move first to Malawi, and then to Zambia.

The book is not heavily political, however, as it mostly concerns what happened within the Fuller family, and that story is almost unbearably tragic at times. Out of five children born to the family, only two survive. Alexandra blames herself for the death of her sister, and I strongly suspect that she still is bearing that terrible burden today:

No one ever came right out and said in the broad light of day that I was responsible for Olivia’s death and that Olivia’s death made Mum go from being a fun drunk to a crazy, sad drunk and so I am also responsible for Mum’s madness. No one ever came right out and said it in words and with pointing fingers. They didn’t have to.
Fuller also makes no apologies for or commentary on the racist attitudes of the white Rhodesians, including those of her own family. Is that a weakness of the book? Perhaps, or else she just feels that it is unnecessary to do so. She prefers to write about it as she saw it at the time when she was a child. After all, it does not show these people in a very flattering light. She doesn’t spare herself, either.

However, I still highly recommend this book. It is very funny but also achingly sad at times. You will be a richer person for having read it.


It’s a Blog Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

Every weekend, Crazy for Books has a Blog Hop for Books Blogs!

The question of the week:

Q. Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

A. No, I don’t. I find it hard to compare totally different books with each other. If I was writing a books blog reviewing books all from the same author, I might very well rate them. But how do I compare a very serious, tragic book with a light-hearted one? Or a book that has a message with a book that is light-hearted and fun to read. I do admire those book bloggers who rate books, but I have decided not to do that.