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Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood [Paperback]

Alexandra Fuller
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 11 2003
In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with candor and sensitivity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.

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Product Description

From Amazon

Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight is a wonderfully evocative memoir of Alexandra Fuller’s African childhood. Fuller regards herself "as a daughter of Africa", who spent her early life on farms in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia throughout the turbulent 1970s and 80s, as her parents "fought to keep one country in Africa white-run", but "lost twice" in Kenya and Zimbabwe. This is a profoundly personal story about growing up with a pair of funny, tough, white African settlers, and living with their "sometimes breathlessly illogical decisions", as they move from war-torn Zimbabwe to disease and malnutrition in Malawi, and finally the "beautiful and fertile" land of Zambia.

Central to Fuller’s book is the intense relations between herself and her parents, a chain-smoking father able to turn round any farm in Africa, her glamorous older sister Vanessa, and the character who sits at the heart of the book, Fuller’s "fiercely intelligent, deeply compassionate, surprisingly witty and terrifyingly mad" mother.

Fuller weaves together painful family tragedy with a wider understanding of the ambivalence of being part of a separatist white farming community in the midst of Black African independence. The majority of the book focuses on Fuller’s early years in war-torn Zimbabwe, with "more history stuffed into its make-believe, colonial-dream borders than one country the size of a very large teapot should be able to amass." This is the most successful dimension of the book, as Fuller describes growing up on farm where her father is away most nights fighting "terrorists", and stripping a rifle takes precedence over school lessons. The sections on Malawi and Zambia are more prosaic, but this is a lyrical and accomplished memoir about Africa, which is "about adjusting to a new world view" and the author’s "passionate love for a continent that has come to define, shape, scar and heal me and my family." --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving and even delightful journey through a white African girl's childhood. Born in England and now living in Wyoming, Fuller was conceived and bred on African soil during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979), a world where children over five "learn[ed] how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill." With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents' racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child's watchful eyes. Curfews and war, mosquitoes, land mines, ambushes and "an abundance of leopards" are the stuff of this childhood. "Dad has to go out into the bush... and find terrorists and fight them"; Mum saves the family from an Egyptian spitting cobra; they both fight "to keep one country in Africa white-run." The "A" schools ("with the best teachers and facilities") are for white children; "B" schools serve "children who are neither black nor white"; and "C" schools are for black children. Fuller's world is marked by sudden, drastic changes: the farm is taken away for "land redistribution"; one term at school, five white students are "left in the boarding house... among two hundred African students"; three of her four siblings die in infancy; the family constantly sets up house in hostile, desolate environments as they move from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. But Fuller's remarkable affection for her parents (who are racists) and her homeland (brutal under white and black rule) shines through. This affection, in spite of its subjects' prominent flaws, reveals their humanity and allows the reader direct entry into her world. Fuller's book has the promise of being widely read and remaining of interest for years to come. Photos not seen by PW. (On-sale Dec. 18)Forecast: Like Anne Frank's diary, this work captures the tone of a very young person caught up in her own small world as she witnesses a far larger historical event. It will appeal to those looking for a good story as well as anyone seeking firsthand reportage of white southern Africa. The quirky title and jacket will propel curious shoppers to pick it up.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars couldn't put this book down Nov. 13 2004
I found that I couldn't put this book down. The author has fantastic insight into her own dysfunctional family. This is a touching survivor's story. A wonderful book, even more so because it's autobiographical. For anyone who loves reading about life in Africa and overcoming adversity in life, this is the book for you. Has a bit of "Nightmares Echo" and "Living Lolita in Tehran" in it. All excellent reads. Highly rated.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Written, Extraordinary Memoir April 25 2004
By A Customer
I've been fascinated by Africa, particularly since reading Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible' several years ago, so when I saw this book and its engaging cover, I grabbed it! I just LOVED Fuller's memoir and, like so many others, just hated to see it end (but unlike others, I read it slowly, with extra maps in hand, savoring every page). It's easy to pick up any part of it and get involved all over again...
I was so impressed by the quality of Fuller's writing, as I'm always looking for well-written fiction (and no, this isn't fiction, but it reads like an absorbing novel). There isn't a false note in this well-crafted debut--it's so crisply honed (not an extra word anywhere!, and she knows just when to end an episode), with wonderful dialogue and vignettes, and an equally wonderful, fresh use of the English language; Fuller often uses her own original compound words, for example, to narrate her story of growing up in three African countries, with a chaotic and ever-interesting family, with Africa itself always there, always one of the characters, too.
I thought the story succeeded so well because Fuller doesn't 'whitewash' her parents or family at all. Nor does she judge them. While I winced at yet another drink in her mother's hand sometimes, or the fact that no one ever processed anything with young Alexandra (Bobo) after her baby sister's death, it's obvious that this is a family that has a great affection for each other, though Fuller keeps this tightly understated. I was caught up in the relationships between family members, their use of nicknames (used affectionately), the complexity of Fuller's mother--what an incredible character!--and the way Bobo seemed, to me, to be the son her father never had.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very different childhood June 30 2004
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller is an extraordinary memoir of growing up white in war ravaged Africa. Alexandra, called Bobo by her family, was born in 1969 in England. Her parents moved the family to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1972. Always suffering from "bad, bad luck", which included losing three children, the family moves from farm to farm within Rhodesia and Malawi.
Fuller's writing style is rich, lyrical and many times, funny. I could picture the land, feel the heat and smell the smoking fish that embodies the Africa she describes. I found myself laughing even as I was shaking my head in disbelief at some of the choices her parents made. Bobo's mother, Nicola Fuller, is racist, resilient, strong and mad as a hatter. In other words, she's the most memorable character in the book.
Of course, to Fuller all of this stress and strife was, while not exactly normal, expected. She was a child, after all, and it's all she'd ever known. As I was reading, I couldn't help but think that American kids really have no idea how hard their life could be.
Overall a captivating read. It left me reminiscing about my childhood and reflecting on how simple and uncomplicated (read boring) it was.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a real eye's Africa May 1 2004
This is an interestingly rich book about small, real lives in big Africa. Fuller captures the continent from the eyes of a white, definitely not rich, farm family around the time of the collapse of colonialism and the rise of strange despotism. There are no apologies for racism, for warmth, for mistakes, for family, for violence, for nature, for politics, for life. She takes you to hot, humid, dusty, rainy, cold Africa, makes you live there, makes you feel hot, humid, dusty, rainy, cold. I lived there; I recognized the feelings she was presenting as soon as I understood her quirky, understatedly complex style.
The picture on the jacket (ruined by Amazon's marketing in the picture of the book on this website) is the best photo I've ever seen on a book. Before I read, I thought it was just a quirky, stylish picture. After I read a few chapters, I could see it lists the style and story exactly. A black-and-white of a scrubby, dirty stone wall, stained, rutted road, littered with unkempt grass and detritus. You can smell the sheep, the lions, the pee, the dampness. A little girl, dressed in a scruffy playsuit, hair discombobulated by play and let drift by a mother with love but other things to accomplish, grins noisily just inside the photograph. The photographer caught perfectly the solipsism, trust, joy and candor of her. She exists as if someone pasted her picture on the picture of the background, but clues inform you the image fits seamlessly. Then you notice that the wall is where she lives, and that her comfort is because she knows where she is.
Ms. Fuller's child lives in Africa. She only has adventures that involve living, not a grand romance. It's just that her family's living is in Africa, not Montana or London. Africa shapes just living into small heroism. It's a small great book.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars great content
I really enjoyed the content coming from a small girls perspective in a very dysfunctional family but the end left me hanging.
Published 13 months ago by Donna
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story
I liked learning about Africa but the story really didn't seem to go anywhere. Perhaps the next book will complete things.
Published 16 months ago by Hiliary Clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic reminder of living in Africa
Fuller manages to capture the essence of Africa very well as a Msungu. She has a superb way with words and gets across the climate and people so that you can easily relate. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Richard A
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but had some issues with it...
Having just read "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood" by Robyn Scott and LOVING it, I thought that I would try this book. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2011 by just another reader
5.0 out of 5 stars A Survivor's Story
Alexandra Fuller is a survivor of a very dysfunctional family. This poignant, heart wrenching, yet at times laugh out loud funny memoir is rich in the African landscape that she... Read more
Published on March 27 2007 by Teddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is a brutal portrayal of war-time Zimbabwe. It certainly hides a lot about the wonderful side of Africa and gives a false image of what is good... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2005 by Edwin
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo
A wonderful insight into the mind of a child and a precise memoir of life itself. Life isn't straightforward and simple, yet we survive, thrive and love, even in the most difficult... Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by CJF
1.0 out of 5 stars Just meanders . . .
I read this book for my book club. It just seemed to meander through her childhood, no real plot or climax. Read more
Published on July 7 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars White man point of view
This book is basically a white mans point of view of the great continent that they distroyed. The political system in Zimbabwe is not ment for African peoples benefit that is why... Read more
Published on June 30 2004 by Golden Ballz
2.0 out of 5 stars Too internal for my tastes
Strange that a book centered around Africa, and so rich at times with descriptive passages, should leave me feeling so left out. Read more
Published on June 28 2004
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