on November 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.
on April 25, 2004
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. And yes, these are 'racist' parents who you may not always agree with, but you love them just the same, despite their lapses (or maybe because of them).
I did wonder about all the alcohol and hard-drinking, which is often amusing, but sad, too, and wondered if it was central to surviving in Africa, as not only is alcohol and alcoholism a factor in Fuller's own family, but the other 'expats' seem to all get drunk, too, and so do the black Africans. Is it a way of coping with a place, a continent that seems to be, by its very nature, excessive and unpredictable?
I also wondered, because Fuller is yes, so amazingly candid and detailed in her portraits of the family and their life, how her parents and sister let her publish such unvarnished depictions (let's hope they're all still speaking to each other! But hats off to them all, for letting Alexandra tell it the way she saw it...).
Like other reviewers, I also loved learning more about this part of the world, and you do learn about the backdrop of Rhodesia's civil war (and true, you wonder why the Fullers stay--I thought there were answers in the book, though), and about the landscape and 'personality' of Africa, which are so vividly and urgently present. I also appreciated the many layers that are there to be had in this memoir--yes, it's a story of one person coming to terms with her identity, her growing up years and her family, but it also raises questions about Africa's future and the place of whites in it, to name just one thing I thought about while reading this memoir.
I liked the extra pieces at the end of the book ('My Africa' and suggested further reading, both of which the author adds in the paperback edition), and the many pictures from the Fuller family photos drew me in even more into Fuller's story.
The one thing that bothered me somewhat in the book is that I so wished Fuller had put a few more dates in; I didn't mind that she jumped around, but just wanted to know how old she was at various times, wanted to get a more accurate sense of her chronology and the family's moves (I did reread the sections in order later, but still, a few more dates would have helped, I think).
Hopefully, this will be a writer we'll be hearing more from. She's too good to have only this one book in her! And I'm ending this review thinking I haven't done justice to the book--it really is one of the best books I've read in ages, and I hardly ever read non-fiction anymore! If nothing else, read it for the fine, tightly beautiful writing, or for the fact that it's difficult to find a memoir that's so unsentimentally, honestly and freshly drawn.
on 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.
on 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.
on April 12, 2004
Alexandra Fuller delivers an intense recollection of her childhood in Rhodesia during the 1971-79 civil war. Her parents, originally from England, manage to thrive working on ranches and farms while rearing their children to be hearty, self-sufficient and weapon savvy. This is not a life style a typical family could handle, but their ability to find humor, love and appreciation for the land they live on is evident in their commitment to stay no matter what the cost.
The author has an amazing ability to reconstruct the sights, smells and people of the many towns and villages in which they lived. With great humor she reviews "ranches or farms" her father and mother chose to buy or rent. Beautiful compounds, complete with swimming pools, tended gardens, barns, corrals and servant quarters fallen into unimaginable states of disrepair serve as home for the family. It is difficult work to rehabilitate these places, and the endurance of the family is remarkable.
Danger and risk appear to be the spice for this family. Choosing to remain firmly planted as the war accelerates is an astonishing decision, especially in light of the quirky parental personalities standing at the helm. Ms. Fuller remembers her life with humor, sensitivity and a palpable love for her African childhood.
on December 30, 2003
What makes this book worth reading -- aside from a captivating style and humorous content -- is precisely what separates it from other excellent books about similar subject matter (Godwin's Mukiwa, Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions): the fact that Fuller makes no attempt to analyze, excuse, or explain the racism and insanity of her family history. Rather than rationalizing her parents' racist attitudes, Fuller chooses instead to simply describe in her wry, matter-of-fact voice precisely how the end of the colonial era was experienced by people implicated in it. She does not try to gloss her childhood experiences with politically correct hindsight, and in so doing thrusts the reader into the desperation and the joy of rural African life in the last three decades. Bobo's mother is one of the most memorable and remarkable personalities I've encountered in African literature. The book is worth reading entirely for its hysterical concluding scenes. Fuller's characters are real and human, in all their extraordinary bizarreness!
Having spent many an hour, like Bobo Fuller, poking grass into ant-lion holes in the hot dusty veld, this moving story captivated me and painted a moving portrait of people fighting the cruelty of the African landscape. Myth and reality are intertwined in a witty and beautiful story. Everyone should read this book!
on October 11, 2003
I picked this book up because one of my favorite pop culture magazines had named it the best non-fiction book of the year at some point. Still, I must admit that I did not expect it to be quite so good. I was absolutely absorbed in this book and practically lived in it for the few days it took me to finish it - and I certainly drew them out as long as I could because I did not want it to end!
Alexandra Fuller recounts her experiences growing up in various African countries, part of the white colonialist presence in Rhodesia and other countries. Her family endures more than its share of hardships, and Ms. Fuller conveys them honestly, touchingly and in great detail. She does not shy away from some of the less flattering aspects of her parents' participation in a colonialist culture, nor does she pretend that they were free from any sort of prejudice toward the Africans with whom they lived. Yet Ms. Fuller does explain much of it - why her parents chose Africa and Rhodesia, Malawi and so forth, why she viewed the natives as she did, what she and her sister feared, and so on and so forth.
While this frankness is refreshing, what makes this book so excellent is Ms. Fuller's writing, which is simply brilliant. She describes the lush landscapes, the danger of mines, the violence, the poverty and so on with such intense and vivid details that the book truly comes to life. Her experiences growing up in Africa may have been in some ways similar to those of other colonialists, yet she makes her story unique through her insights, her sympathy and empathy, and through the changes that she describes - those of the countries in which she lives, herself, her mother, father, sister and others. That Ms. Fuller's possess an incredible gift for writing is obvious, as is her command of language, with every word and phrase clearly chosen with great care.
I could not recommend this book more highly. I really believe that it is one of the best that I have ever read and certainly one of the best in the past several years. Already I have begun lending it out, and those who have read it have shared my fascination. Simply put, it is not to mbe missed!
on October 4, 2003
"I am African by accident, not by birth," Alexendra Fuller writes in this childhood memoir; "so while soul, heart, and the bent of my mind are African, my skin blaringly begs to differ and is resolutely white" (p. 305). Fuller was born in Derbyshire, England in 1969, and moved to Rhodesia with her parents and older sister in 1972, while she was still learning "toddler English" (p. 10). She then moved to Wyoming in 1994, where she now lives with her river-guide husband, Charlie, and their two children. Fuller's memoir is as much the story of how she came to terms with her family's troubled history, as her love story for Africa (p. 308).
As a memoir, Fuller writes of a childhood that was passionate, troubled, wonderful, oppressive, chaotic, and beautiful. Her complicated mother, Nicola, gave birth to five children; only two survived. Fuller describes her mother as intelligent, but a racist, glamorous, but a hard drinker, and just as capable of discussing Shakespeare as killing a spitting cobra with a gun. She describes her father, Tim, as a heavy-drinking racist, yet taciturn and capable, and as a man who loved Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Fuller's beautiful sister, Vanessa, is best described as the very cool, older sibling we all wish we had to accompany us through childhood. As for her three siblings that didn't survive, well Fuller is quick to note that it doesn't take an African to explain why you don't leave a child in an unmarked grave. "The child will come back to haunt you and wrap itself around you until your own breathing stops under the damp weight of its tiny, ghostly persistence" (p. 211). Hers was no ordinary childhood. And Africa was no ordinary playground.
Fuller writes as if she has African dust in her blood. Her memoir follows her family's moves from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. Despite the country's hostile, desolate environment, Fuller's love for Africa is always evident, from its snakes, scorpions, biting ticks and leopards, to its "hot, sweet, smoky, salty" smells--"It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass," she writes (p. 130)--to its sounds--"The grasshoppers and crickets sing and whine. Drying grass crackles. Dogs pant" (p. 131).
A friend encouraged me to read this book, but it was really the book's quirky title and cover photo that nudged me into traveling with Fuller back to the Africa she discovered as a child. What I experienced on that journey was unforgettable. I highly recommend this book.
on March 12, 2003
Alexandra Fuller takes us back during the years 1972 to 1990 into the life that she led as a child in Southern and Central Africa. Her words are painful and hilarious, but always ring truthful. The story of her very determined parents and the struggle the entire family experienced is amazing. These parents are not the hand holding gentle souls who canï¿½t bear to worry their children, they are blunt and strong and serve as examples of people who are surviving in a very difficult life and often-brutal country. The family lived on several farms trying to make a living on inhospitable land where guerrilla fighters were lurking in the bushes and camping on the farmland during the nights. The truth was they loved Africa, and were determined to stay there.
During all of the years of civil unrest, her father was often away serving as a soldier for the government. Her mother was a very emotional, but strong woman who tried her best to hold on even when she saw her children die and she had to continue to run the farm alone while her husband was out fighting. Everyone carried guns and the children were taught how to load a gun as soon as they were agile enough to do it.
Alexandra, called Bobo by her family gives us this remembrance that she had from the age of three. ï¿½Mum says, ï¿½Donï¿½t come creeping into our room at night.ï¿½ They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, ï¿½Donï¿½t startle us when weï¿½re sleeping.ï¿½ ï¿½We might shoot you.ï¿½ ï¿½Oh.ï¿½ ï¿½ By mistake.ï¿½ ï¿½Okay, I wonï¿½t.ï¿½ replied Bobo.
I didnï¿½t want this story to end and hope that the author writes another book and gives us an update on her remarkable family.
on November 10, 2002
Subtitled, "An African Childhood," this delightful autobiography by Alexandra Fuller transported me right into her world. Born in 1969, her early childhood was spent in sweltering hot Rhodesia, where her parents slept with guns next to their bed, and her father was often away, fighting with other white men against the guerillas who eventually won the war. Her parents were poor, life was brutal and harsh, and the climate was always sticky and uncomfortable. And yet, this is a tale laced with humor as she casts her child's eye view at the many disruptions and disappointments of her family's life as they moved from Rhodesia to Malawi and then to Zambia.
Ms. Fuller's world was full of hot sweaty days, hard work, mosquitoes and ticks and snakes. There's only occasional electricity, drinking water is foul, and any kind of plumbing is a luxury. But there's always beer and alcohol, and lots of cigarettes, all of which is taken for granted as a way of life by her and her sister, the two surviving siblings out of five. I couldn't help thinking about my own children and their easy life here in New York, as I looked at the photographs throughout the book as the two young girls grew up and the parents grew wrinkled and gray. I love the writer's descriptions and the way she uses words. The children sing songs about fighting through "thickandthin" and the family camps with other "expats-like-us". Young Alexandra, nicknamed "Bobo" learns to clean, load and shoot a gun. Her father chain smokes cigarettes as he drives their Land Rover over inhospitable roads. Her mother loves animals and keeps packs of dogs around in a losing battle to control their fleas. The children attend boarding schools that change in racial composition as the politics change. And yet there's never a single word of self pity in spite of failing crops and ramshackle living conditions.
I loved this book and read it fast, enjoying Ms. Fuller's voice. The Africa she describes became real to me as I let myself plunge into her world for a little while. There was an excellent map which helped me locate the places she describes as well as the family snapshots. Most of all though, there was a sense throughout of what it really felt like to be that little girl who grew up to share her memories with her readers. I thank her for doing that and give this book one of my highest recommendations. Read it. It's a real treat!