Monday, October 25, 2010
Book Review: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood
Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood (Random House) is a remarkable memoir about her family’s struggle for survival in southern and central Africa.
Spanning the period 1975 through the early 2000's, Bobo, as the author was nicknamed, makes unique observations about a life most people can’t even imagine. Born in England, Bobo moved with her family to what was then Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, when she was three. Over the years the family eked out a living on a series of farms.
The author considers herself African and the story is told not from a visitor’s viewpoint, but from an African perspective. For a period of time, her father joins the side of the white government in the Rhodesion civil war, while her mother fights the battles at home–drought, wandering stock, reluctant crops and errant help. Her mother’s fierce love for her children isn’t shown with coddling, but rather as a model for hard work, self-reliance and dedication to managing their home. Her father seems fearless, determined to fight for what he believes, yet he’s quick with humor and wry wit. He throws himself wholeheartedly into whatever he’s doing at the moment, a profound example for his children.
Her family means everything to Bobo, yet at times it’s a tentative relationship–always with love, but often with shaky foundations
Fuller’s ability to show this unique lifestyle is extraordinary. With sly humor, she holds nothing back, but is always without judgement. Africa is a tough continent for anyone–the heat can be relentless, the mosquitoes deadly, tribal wars frequent, harsh terrain often unforgiving. Mere survival is a challenge.
At the beginning of each chapter, pictures of the family are shown, giving the reader a sense of being there (but without having to endure all the hardships). The first picture shown is Bobo as a very young girl loading a revolver.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood is told with stark honesty and sensitivity. It’s hard not to be cynical, yet Fuller’s story is unflinching and captivating. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.