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

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Overview

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 ...
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Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Alexandra "Bobo" Fuller's journey crosses unchartered roads. This dazzlingly written memoir of a young English-born girl, whose family moves to strife-torn Rhodesia in 1972, paints a canvas of a landscape few Americans will easily recognize.

The family barely scrapes by as Rhodesia is ravaged by war, then relocates to the bleak, inhospitable landscape of Malawi and finally settles on a farm in Zambia. Along the way, these insistent white settlers encounter an environment many might question.

Three of the five Fuller children die before the age of two; only the author and her sister Vanessa survive. Their mother struggles with fierce bouts of alcoholism and breakdowns that ultimately are diagnosed as manic-depressive episodes. Meanwhile, their father fights in the Rhodesian bush for months at a time.

In the tradition of other white European women before her, such as Isak Dinesen, Bobo falls in love with an Africa she cannot be a part of and yet cannot walk away from. "My soul has no home," she movingly writes. "I am neither African, nor English nor am I of the sea."

The book may be somewhat disturbing in its politics, depending on one's viewpoint on the Rhodesian struggle, but as a writer, Fuller gives us a tour de force. We see, hear, and even smell the Africa of her childhood. Ultimately, Let's Don't Go to the Dogs Tonight becomes a 20th-century swan song to the long story of colonials in Africa; in this case, told from the inside out. And as such it makes for riveting reading. (Elena Simon)

Elena Simon lives in New York City.

From the Publisher
“This is not a book you read just once, but a tale of terrible beauty to get lost in over and over.” —Newsweek

“By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring . . . hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling.”—The New Yorker

“Ms. Fuller gives us . . . the Africa she knew as a girl, a place of cruel politics, violent heat and startling beauty, a land she makes vivid in all its ‘incongruous, lawless, joyful, violent, upside-down, illogical certainty.’” —The New York Times

“Vivid, insightful and sly . . . Bottom line: Out of Africa, brilliantly.”—People

Stephen Clingsman
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is surprisingly engaging and even moving.
New York Times
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 directentry 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.
KLIATT
To quote KLIATT's March 2003 review of the Recorded Books audiobook edition: Alexandra (Bobo) was born in England but moved to what was then Rhodesia in the early 1970s when she was about three years old. As that child, she recounts the wars, the fighting, the racism, and her family's struggles with the climate, the land, and the people. They are farmers and everything is difficult. Bobo's view of it all is fresh, matter-of-fact and often naïve, as she describes driving through land mine-ridden country, her mother going down the driveway to greet visitors with her Uzi slung over her shoulder, her father leaving for his stint of soldiering in the bush, or the children learning how to take apart and put together the family guns and learn CPR and first aid, "in case all the grown-ups are dead." Pathos, humor, and the details of what life in Rhodesia was like make this a remarkable, startling experience. (Editor's note: the paperback edition includes a Reader's Guide, with a statement from the author, suggested reading, and questions for discussion.) KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Random House, 316p. illus. map. bibliog., Purucker
Library Journal
It is difficult for most people even to imagine the world described in this book, let alone live in it as a child: the nights are dark, scary, and filled with strange noises; the people welcome you and despise you at the same time; there is a constant anxious feeling burning in your stomach, which, you later realize, is fear of the unrest surrounding you. The British-born Fuller grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), losing three siblings to disease as her father fought in the Rhodesian civil war and her mother managed the farm. She approaches her childhood with reserve, leaving many stories open to interpretation while also maintaining a remarkable clarity about what really transpired in her homeland, in her own home, and in her head. The narrative seems complicated, weaving together war, politics, racial issues, and alcoholism, but its emotional core remains honest, playful, and unapologetic; it hardly seems possible that this 32-year-old has so much to say and says it so well. In this powerful debut, Fuller fully succeeds in memorializing the beauty of each desert puddle and each African summer night sky while also recognizing that beauty can lie hidden in the faces of those who have crossed her path. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/01.]-Rachel Collins, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Pining for Africa, Fuller's parents departed England in the early '70s while she was still a toddler. They knew well that their life as white farmers living in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) would be anything but glamorous. Living a crude, rural life, the author and her older sister contended with "itchy bums and worms and bites up their arms from fleas" and losing three siblings. Mum and Dad were freewheeling, free-drinking, and often careless. Yet they were made of tough stuff and there is little doubt of the affection among family members. On top of attempting to make a living, they faced natives who were trying to free themselves of British rule, and who were understandably not thrilled to see more white bwanas settling in. Fuller portrays bigotry (her own included), segregation, and deprivation. But judging by her vivid and effortless imagery, it is clear that the rich, pungent flora and fauna of Africa have settled deeply in her bones. Snapshots scattered throughout the book enhance the feeling of intimacy and adventure. A photo of the author's first day of boarding school seems ordinary enough- she's standing in front of the family's Land Rover, smiling with her mother and sister. Then the realization strikes that young Alexandra is holding an Uzi (which she had been trained to use) and the family car had been mine-proofed. This was no ordinary childhood, and it makes a riveting story thanks to an extraordinary telling.-Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fuller's debut is a keen-eyed, sharp-voiced memoir of growing up white in 1970s Africa. Born in England in 1969, the author by age three had moved to civil-war-torn Rhodesia, where her parents had lived before they lost an infant son to meningitis. Tim and Nicola Fuller ran a farm on Rhodesia's eastern edge. Mozambique, just across the border, was deep into its own civil war, and in this hostile geopolitical climate the Fullers struggled for a toehold that would keep Rhodesia white-ruled. In 1976, Nicola gave birth to a daughter who drowned in a duck puddle less than two years later. Minority rule ended in 1979; the country began its gradual, uneasy metamorphosis into independent Zimbabwe. The Fullers lost their land; Nicola bore and for the third time lost a child. To gain distance from all this failure, the family moved to dictator-controlled Malawi before ultimately settling in Zambia, where Tim and Nicola remain to this day. Fuller makes no apologies for her parents' (especially her mother's) politics. The loose structure and short takes here crystallize and polish the general subjects-race, politics, history, home, loss-into diamond-hard clarity without sacrificing the pace and intensity of the narrative or distracting the reader from the appeal of the personal. Like Dinesen, the author takes an elegiac tone, but it's balanced by a bouncy lyricism derived from compression, humor, and gimlet-eyed compassion. Fuller loved and loves her Africa; in the final analysis that passion takes a bright and vivid story to the next level, and even further. An illuminating, even thrillingly fresh perspective on the continent's much-discussed post-colonial problems.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375758997
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/11/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 82,907
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexandra Fuller
Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. In 1972 she moved with her family to a farm in Rhodesia. After that country’s civil war in 1981, the Fullers moved first to Malawi, then to Zambia. Fuller received a B.A. from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1994, she moved to Wyoming, where she still lives. She has two children.

From the Hardcover edition.

Good To Know

In our interview with Fuller, she shared some fascinating facts about herself:

"There isn't a moment that I am not thinking about Africa. I am either thinking about it in relation to what I am writing at that time, or I am thinking about it in relations to where I am geographically (I am writing this at my desk in my office overlooking the Tetons, which could not be further, you might argue, from Zambia. Yet, I have been thinking all morning that the cry of an angry great blue heron -- they are nesting in the aspens at the end of our property -- sound like Chacma baboons)."

"The best way for me to evoke the same sense of place and the same smells and the same space of Africa is when I am out riding. I have a rather naughty little Arab mare, whom I accompany (it would be an exaggeration to claim that I "ride" her) into the mountains almost every day when the snow is clear. Something about being away from people, alone with a horse and a dog, fills me with an intense sense of joy and well-being, and I always return from these excursions inspired (if not to write, then to be a better mother, or to cook something fabulous, or to do the laundry)."

"I have come to the conclusion that I can only write about something if I have actually smelled it for myself. I have no idea what this says about me, but I think it's a fact of my work. I also cannot think of something without immediately evoking its smell (for example, if I think of my father, I think of the smell of cigarette smoke and the bitter scent of his sweat -- he has never once worn deodorant, so his smell is very organic and wonderfully his -- and of the faint aroma of tea and engine oil he exudes). Once, in France, a particularly thorough journalist (he had 50 questions for me!) said, somewhat accusingly, 'You have written here in your book' (it was Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight) 'about the smell of frog sperm. What exactly does frog sperm smell of?' And without hesitating for a moment, I replied, 'Cut turnips,' which I think surprised both of us."

"I love to write, and I dislike overly long interviews."

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    1. Hometown:
      Wilson, Wyoming
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 29, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Glossop, Derbyshire, England
    1. Education:
      B. A., Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1992

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

rhodesia, 1976

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."

"Oh."

"By mistake."

"Okay." As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. "Okay, I won't."

So if I wake in the night and need Mum and Dad, I call Vanessa,
because she isn't armed. "Van! Van, hey!" I hiss across the room until she wakes up. And then Van has to light a candle and escort me to the loo, where I pee sleepily into the flickering yellow light and
Van keeps the candle high, looking for snakes and scorpions and baboon spiders.

Mum won't kill snakes because she says they help to keep the rats down (but she rescued a nest of baby mice from the barns and left them to grow in my cupboard, where they ate holes in the family's winter jerseys). Mum won't kill scorpions either; she catches them and lets them go free in the pool and Vanessa and I have to rake the pool before we can swim. We fling the scorps as far as we can across the brown and withering lawn, chase the ducks and geese out, and then lower ourselves gingerly into the pool, whose sides wave green and long and soft and grasping with algae. And Mum won't kill spiders because she says it will bring bad luck.

I tell her, "I'd say we have pretty rotten luck as it is."

"Then think how much worse it would be if we killed spiders."

I have my feet off the floor when I pee.

"Hurry up, man."

"Okay, okay."

"It's like Victoria Falls."

"I really had to go."

I have been holding my pee for a long, long time and staring out the window to try and guess how close it is to morning. Maybe I could hold it until morning. But then I notice that it is the deep-black-sky quiet time of night, which is the halfway time between the sun setting and the sun rising when even the night animals are quiet-as if they, like day animals, take a break in the middle of their work to rest. I can't hear Vanessa breathing; she has gone into her deep middle-of-the-night silence. Dad is not snoring nor is he shouting in his sleep. The baby is still in her crib but the smell of her is warm and animal with wet nappy. It will be a long time until morning.

Then Vanessa hands me the candle-"You keep boogies for me now"-and she pees.

"See, you had to go, too."

"Only 'cos you had to."

There is a hot breeze blowing through the window, the cold sinking night air shifting the heat of the day up. The breeze has trapped midday scents; the prevalent cloying of

the leach field, the green soap which has spilled out from the laundry and landed on the patted-down red earth, the wood smoke from the fires that heat our water, the boiled-meat smell of dog food.

We debate the merits of flushing the loo.

"We shouldn't waste the water." Even when there isn't a drought we can't waste water, just in case one day there is a drought. Anyway,
Dad has said, "Steady on with the loo paper, you kids. And don't flush the bloody loo all the time. The leach field can't handle it."

"But that's two pees in there."

"So? It's only pee."

"Agh sis, man, but it'll be smelly by tomorrow. And you peed as much as a horse."

"It's not my fault."

"You can flush."

"You're taller."

"I'll hold the candle."

Van holds the candle high. I lower the toilet lid, stand on it and lift up the block of hardwood that covers the cistern, and reach down for the chain. Mum has glued a girlie-magazine picture to this block of hardwood: a blond woman in few clothes, with breasts like naked cow udders, and she's all arched in a strange pouty contortion, like she's got backache. Which maybe she has, from the weight of the udders. The picture is from Scope magazine.

We aren't allowed to look at Scope magazine.

"Why?"

"Because we aren't those sorts of people," says Mum.

"But we have a picture from Scope magazine on the loo lid."

"That's a joke."

"Oh." And then, "What sort of joke?"

"Stop twittering on."

A pause. "What sort of people are we, then?"

"We have breeding," says Mum firmly.

"Oh." Like the dairy cows and our special expensive bulls (who are named Humani, Jack, and Bulawayo).

"Which is better than having money," she adds.

I look at her sideways, considering for a moment. "I'd rather have money than breeding," I say.

Mum says, "Anyone can have money." As if it's something you might pick up from the public toilets in OK Bazaar Grocery Store in Umtali.

"Ja, but we don't."

Mum sighs. "I'm trying to read, Bobo."

"Can you read to me?"

Mum sighs again. "All right," she says, "just one chapter." But it is teatime before we look up from The Prince and the Pauper.

The loo gurgles and splutters, and then a torrent of water shakes down, spilling slightly over the bowl.

"Sis, man," says Vanessa.

You never know what you're going to get with this loo. Sometimes it refuses to flush at all and other times it's like this, water on your feet.

I follow Vanessa back to the bedroom. The way candlelight falls,
we're walking into blackness, blinded by the flame of the candle,
unable to see our feet. So at the same moment we get the creeps, the neck-prickling terrorist-under-the-bed creeps, and we abandon ourselves to fear. The candle blows out. We skid into our room and leap for the beds, our feet quickly tucked under us. We're both panting, feeling foolish, trying to calm our breathing as if we weren't scared at all.

Vanessa says, "There's a terrorist under your bed, I can see him."

"No you can't, how can you see him? The candle's out."

"Struze fact."

And I start to cry.

"Jeez, I'm only joking."

I cry harder.

"Shhh, man. You'll wake up Olivia. You'll wake up Mum and Dad."

Which is what I'm trying to do, without being shot. I want everyone awake and noisy to chase away the terrorist-under-my-bed.

"Here," she says, "you can sleep with Fred if you stop crying."

So I stop crying and Vanessa pads over the bare cement floor and brings me the cat, fast asleep in a snail-circle on her arms. She puts him on the pillow and I put an arm over the vibrating, purring body. Fred finds my earlobe and starts to suck. He's always sucked our earlobes. Our hair is sucked into thin, slimy, knotted ropes near the ears.

Mum says, "No wonder you have worms all the time."

I lie with my arms over the cat, awake and waiting. African dawn,
noisy with animals and the servants and Dad waking up and a tractor coughing into life somewhere down at the workshop, clutters into the room. The bantam hens start to crow and stretch, tumbling out of their roosts in the tree behind the bathroom to peck at the reflection of themselves in the window. Mum comes in smelling of
Vicks VapoRub and tea and warm bed and scoops the sleeping baby up to her shoulder.

I can hear July setting tea on the veranda and I can smell the first,
fresh singe of Dad's morning cigarette. I balance Fred on my shoulder and come out for tea: strong with no sugar, a splash of milk, the way
Mum likes it. Fred has a saucer of milk.

"Morning, Chookies," says Dad, not looking at me, smoking. He is looking far off into the hills, where the border between Rhodesia and
Mozambique melts blue-gray, even in the pre-hazy clear of early morning.

"Morning, Dad."

"Sleep all right?"

"Like a log," I tell him. "You?"

Dad grunts, stamps out his cigarette, drains his teacup, balances his bush hat on his head, and strides out into the yard to make the most of the little chill the night has left us with which to fight the gathering soupy heat of day.

getting there:

zambia, 1987

To begin with, before Independence, I am at school with white children only. "A" schools, they are called: superior schools with the best teachers and facilities. The black children go to "C"
schools. In-between children who are neither black nor white (Indian or a mixture of races) go to "B" schools.

The Indians and coloureds (who are neither completely this nor completely that) and blacks are allowed into my school the year I
turn eleven, when the war is over. The blacks laugh at me when they see me stripped naked after swimming or tennis, when my shoulders and arms are angry sunburnt red.

"Argh! I smell roasting pork!" they shriek.

"Who fried the bacon?"

"Burning piggy!"

My God, I am the wrong color. The way I am burned by the sun,
scorched by flinging sand, prickled by heat. The way my skin erupts in miniature volcanoes of protest in the presence of tsetse flies,
mosquitoes, ticks. The way I stand out against the khaki bush like a large marshmallow to a gook with a gun. White. African. White-African.

"But what are you?" I am asked over and over again.

"Where are you from originally?"

I began then, embarking from a hot, dry boat.

Blinking bewildered from the sausage-gut of a train.

Arriving in Rhodesia, Africa. From Derbyshire, England. I was two years old, startled and speaking toddler English. Lungs shocked by thick, hot, humid air. Senses crushed under the weight of so many stimuli.

I say, "I'm African." But not black.

And I say, "I was born in England," by mistake.

But, "I have lived in Rhodesia (which is now Zimbabwe) and in Malawi
(which used to be Nyasaland) and in Zambia (which used to be Northern
Rhodesia)."

And I add, "Now I live in America," through marriage.

And (full disclosure), "But my parents were born of Scottish and
English parents."

What does that make me?

Mum doesn't know who she is, either.

She stayed up all night once listening to Scottish music and crying.

"This music"-her nose twitches-"is so beautiful. It makes me homesick."

Mum has lived in Africa all but three years of her life.

"But this is your home."

"But my heart"-Mum attempts to thump her chest-"is Scottish."

Oh, fergodsake. "You hated England," I point out.

Mum nods, her head swinging, like a chicken with a broken neck.
"You're right," she says. "But I love Scotland."

"What," I ask, challenging, "do you love about Scotland?"

"Oh the . . . the . . ." Mum frowns at me, checks to see if I'm tricking her. "The music," she says at last, and starts to weep again. Mum hates Scotland. She hates drunk-driving laws and the cold.
The cold makes her cry, and then she comes down with malaria.

Her eyes are half-mast. That's what my sister and I call it when Mum is drunk and her eyelids droop. Half-mast eyes. Like the flag at the post office whenever someone important dies, which in Zambia, with one thing and another, is every other week. Mum stares out at the home paddocks where the cattle are coming in for their evening water to the trough near the stables. The sun is full and heavy over the hills that describe the Zambia-Zaire border. "Have a drink with me,
Bobo," she offers. She tries to pat the chair next to hers, misses,
and feebly slaps the air, her arm like a broken wing.

I shake my head. Ordinarily I don't mind getting softly drunk next to the slowly collapsing heap that is Mum, but I have to go back to boarding school the next day, nine hours by pickup across the border to Zimbabwe. "I need to pack, Mum."

That afternoon Mum had spent hours wrapping thirty feet of electric wire around the trees in the garden so that she could pick up the
World Service of the BBC. The signature tune crackled over the syrup-yellow four o'clock light just as the sun was starting to hang above the top of the msasa trees. " 'Lillibulero,' " Mum said.
"That's Irish."

"You're not Irish," I pointed out.

She said, "Never said I was." And then, follow-on thought, "Where's the whisky?"

We must have heard "Lillibulero" thousands of times. Maybe millions.
Before and after every news broadcast. At the top of every hour.
Spluttering with static over the garden at home; incongruous from the branches of acacia trees in campsites we have set up in the bush across the countryside; singing from the bathroom in the evening.

But you never know what will set Mum off. Maybe it was "Lillibulero"
coinciding with the end of the afternoon, which is a rich, sweet,
cooling, melancholy time of day.

"Your Dad was English originally," I tell her, not liking the way this is going.

She said, "It doesn't count. Scottish blood cancels English blood."

By the time she has drunk a quarter of a bottle of whisky, we have lost reception from Bush House in London and the radio hisses to itself from under its fringe of bougainvillea. Mum has pulled out her old Scottish records. There are three of them. Three records of men in kilts playing bagpipes. The photographs show them marching blindly
(how do they see under those dead-bear hats?) down misty Scottish cobbled streets, their faces completely blocked by their massive instruments. Mum turns the music up as loud as it will go, takes the whisky out to the veranda, and sits cross-legged on a picnic chair,
humming and staring out at the night-blanketed farm.

This cross-leggedness is a hangover from the brief period in Mum's life when she took up yoga from a book. Which was better than the brief period in her life in which she explored the possibility of converting to the Jehovah's Witnesses. And better than the time she bought a book on belly-dancing at a rummage sale and tried out her techniques on every bar north of the Limpopo River and south of the equator.

The horses shuffle restlessly in their stables. The night apes scream from the tops of the shimmering-leafed msasa trees. The dogs set up in a chorus of barking and will not stop until we put them inside,
all except Mum's faithful spaniel, who will not leave her side even when she's throwing what Dad calls a wobbly. Which is what this is: a wobbly. The radio hisses and occasionally, drunkenly, bursts into snatches of song (Spanish or Portuguese) or chatters in German, in
Afrikaans, or in an exaggerated American accent. "This is the Voice of America." And then it swoops, "Beee-ooooeee!"

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Reading Group Guide

1. Fuller compares the smell of Africa to "black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass." She describes "an explosion of day birds . . . a crashing of wings" and "the sound of heat. The grasshoppers and crickets sing and whine. Drying grass crackles. Dogs pant." How effective is the author in drawing the reader into her world with the senses of sound, and smell, and taste? Can you find other examples of her ability to evoke a physical and emotional landscape that pulses with life? What else makes her writing style unique?

2. Given their dangerous surroundings in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia and a long streak of what young Bobo describes as "bad, bad luck," why does the Fuller family remain in Africa?

3. Drawing on specific examples, such as Nicola Fuller's desire to "live in a country where white men still ruled" and the Fuller family's dramatic interactions with African squatters, soldiers, classmates, neighbors, and servants, how would you describe the racial tensions and cultural differences portrayed in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, particularly between black Africans and white Africans?

4. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is rich with humorous scenes and dialogue, such as the visit by two missionaries who are chased away by the family's overfriendly dogs, a bevy of ferocious fleas, and the worst tea they have ever tasted. What other examples of comedy can you recall, and what purpose do you think they serve in this serious memoir?

5. Fuller describes the family's move to Burma Valley as landing them "right [in] the middle, the very birthplace and epicenter, of the civil war in Rhodesia." Do her youthful impressions give a realistic portrait of the violent conflict?

6. The New York Times Book Review described Nicola as "one of the most memorable characters of African memoir." What makes the author's portrait of her mother so vivid? How would you describe Bobo's father?

7. Define the complex relationship between Bobo and Vanessa. How do the two sisters differ in the ways that they relate to their parents?

8. Animals are ever present in the book. How do the Fullers view their domesticated animals, as compared to the wild creatures that populate their world?

9. Of five children born to Nicola Fuller, only two survive. "All people know that in one way or the other the dead must be laid to rest properly," Alexandra Fuller writes. Discuss how her family deals with the devastating loss of Adrian, Olivia, and Richard. Are they successful in laying their ghosts to rest?

10. According to Bobo, "Some Africans believe that if your baby dies, you must bury it far away from your house, with proper magic and incantations and gifts for the gods, so that the baby does not come back." Later, at Devuli Ranch, soon after the narrator and her sister have horrified Thompson, the cook, by disturbing an old gravesite, Bobo's father announces that he is going fishing: "If the fishing is good, we'll stay here and make a go of it. If the fishing is bad, we'll leave." What role does superstition play in this book? Look for examples in the behavior and beliefs of both black and white Africans.

11. Consider Fuller's interactions with black Africans, including her nanny in Rhodesia and the children she plays "boss and boys" with, as well as with Cephas the tracker and, later, the first black African to invite her into his home. Over the course of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, how does the narrator change and grow?

12. By the end of the narrative, how do you think the author feels about Africa? Has the book changed your own perceptions about this part of the world?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 101 )
Rating Distribution

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(56)

4 Star

(26)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 101 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 13, 2010

    "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" should be a "don't miss" read for anyone looking for an autobiography in which you can totally immerse yourself.

    My husband and I actually read this book together. We would get ourselves a cup of coffee and head out to our deck every morning during the summer with this delightful book in hand. We were so engaged with "Bobo" and her entire family that we couldn't wait to get started each day. When we finished the book, we were actually saddened that we wouldn't have another day in which to share this wonderful read.
    We laughed till we cried as Alexandra Fuller told her delightful stories about her mother, her father, sister, and the others who lived with and helped this fascinating family. We also cried when tragedy struck. We felt as though we knew these people and shared in their sorrows as they faced them throughout their lives. We truly loved this book and just wanted it to go on and on. Thank you, Alexandra Fuller, for giving us such a fond memory. My only regret is that there isn't a sequel. It's been a long time since I read a book that I enjoyed this much.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Hooked me and kept me enthralled to the very end...

    This was a really compelling memoir, brutally honest and beautifully insightful. Alexandra is a fascinating woman whom I would love to meet and talk with. I have not read her other book... but someday it will make it into my very large pile!

    My criteria for what makes a "good read" are: hooks me in the first 10 pages, opens my eyes to a new point of view, teaches me something about another culture or part of the world, makes me want to learn more. This book hit them all hands down!

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2010

    Terrible Beauty

    Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller portrays a different perspective on life. Alexandra is a young girl living in Africa and she does not live an ordinary life. Alexandra lives with her family in a small city in Africa. This house consists of two rooms and zero bathrooms for a family of five. After just one month of her baby brother being born, he passes away from a horrible disease. Her mother struggles with this loss and progressively gets more depressed as life goes on. Alexandra is accustomed to hunger, drought, malaria, and fighting guerrillas that represent colonial Africa. Her family not only is a victim of racism, but they are guilty of being racist as well. Although Alexandra's family is struggling during such hard times, she has no problem finding laughter in her life. Alexandra looks past all of the terrible situations she has been put through and lives life to the fullest. She looks at her past and discovers love during her journey.
    This book sends many messages. One prominent message in this book is courage. I believe that Alexandra had been put through many tough situations and she overcame all of the troubles that her family had. Alexandra stared down disaster and made the best of what she could. One thing that I really liked about the book is the imagery. Fuller portrayed the environment and time period that they were in and I enjoyed being put into Alexander's situation. One thing that stood out to me in a negative way was how slow the book started off. It was hard to understand Fuller's language. I recommend this book to all teenagers. Teenagers typically think pessimistically about their own lives and they usually do not see that some people are living in Africa with diseases, have no food or home, or even do not have an income. Another book that relates to this is A Child Called 'It' by Dave Peltzer. A Child Called 'It' is similar in many ways because of the situations he must overcome. Dave was beaten as a child by his mother, yet still found a way to enjoy life and make the best out of his situations. Overall, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight was a well written book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Post Colonial Africa Settler Family

    This author also wrote Scribbling the cat. This book describes some interesting events and the underlying hardship faced by white family in southern africa. It is a personal biography/diary more than a cultural critique.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2007

    Raw, poignant portrait of a life of poverty

    An amazing story that reveals the harsh realities of life for the poor in several African countries during the 1970s. Written as a memoir and dedicated to the author's mother, this book would be appreciated by those interested in African life, manic-depression, alcoholism, poverty, farm life, race relations or people who enjoy stories with a wry, dark sense of humor. This book is not written with the sense of balance or thoroughness one might find in a textbook, but rather it is a collection of stories that describe how one family coped with the extreme poverty and the political upheaval of 1970s Africa. By turns it is sad, desperate, intimate, bittersweet, and funny as hell. It will surely evoke some strong emotions in anyone who reads it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book is an easy read. Once I started to read it I could not put it down. The author is very descriptive when recalling the accounts of her life. She includes so much detail it's like watching a movie. She paints a picture in your mind with each page. It is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2006

    Disappointing & Hard To Follow

    There was a lot of good hype for this book, but I just didn't get it. What could have been an interesting story was hard to follow. I'm still trying to figure this book out, even after our book club discussed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2003

    Do Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight!

    I hope that the many who have read and lauded this book don't think that all Rhodesians, 'White' or 'Black' are like those portrayed in this book. I feel like writing a rebuttal to this work in a way - and calling it 'Do let's go to the dogs tonight!'... only no-one would want to read it. It wouldn't be a point by point debate in answer to Ms Fuller's recollections, (that would not interest me). My story of the halcyon days of my childhood in Africa would be no less 'brutal' but hopefully more balanced, in proper context and truthful. Africa is a magnificent continent and the countries in which I have lived are peopled with characters that go beyond a mawkish mixture of personal tragedy and a personal history that I think is used,unsuccessfully, to excuse bad behaviour, racialism and add grist to a mill that is inaccurate, disjointed and exaggerated. Further, being an ex-Rhodesian around 10 years older than the writer, I see no good in the naive political commentary that has no context really other than to make the reader think they understand Africa, Rhodesia, African politics and rule or life on the dark continent, or to 'faga moto' to an already cockeyed view of Africans, Black, Coloured or White. But then perhaps that was what the wiriter wanted. Or maybe she just wrote a story and was suprised at the response of the non-African reading public? Who can really know? I happened to have been born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), lived and schooled in Southern Rhodesia and Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe) and now live in South Africa. Thank heavens my parents worked hard (they too went without food to protect and care for us three children), they were not drunks, and I did not have a childhood filled with ticks, worms and fleas. Please understand, this did not represent Rhodesia for everyone - there was love, respect, understanding and care between all people (both Black and White) when I was growing up ... but then I suppose I was the lucky one. Yes there was a war, yes, in a war horror abounds, yes there are two (?) sides to every question, yes there is enmity between peoples, but to take Ms Fuller's account as a standard interpretation of these times and to fete it as I have read above, well that saddens. I wonder how many of those critics have actually been to Africa in general and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in particular. Read 'A story of an African Farm'... now there's a story about Africa that's more honest by far.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    "Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight"    Although, It wa

    "Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight" 
      Although, It was hard to get into and the beginning was all over the place and it was difficult to understand Fuller’s language, the story eventually made sense.  After Fuller introduced her family, the novel became more interesting and fast paced. I found it amazing that Fuller had such a positive mind through such  hardships. She experienced many deaths that almost put me to tears.  The way she told her stories made me feel as if I was there with her and feeling the same sorrow as her and her family.I really felt it after he sisters death when Fuller said "I understand, through the power of her emotions, her tears, the way she is dissolving like soap left too long in the bath, that this has been the greatest tragedy of our lives." (Fuller, 32). It is astonishing how she would speak so highly of her mother even though her mother was usually drunk. Fuller became independent at a very young age and it is shocking how well she handled some dreadful situations. Every time I picked up the novel I would get lost in it almost instantaneously. This is a book that I would read again. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2013

    Great Memoir

    Fuller gave a stark view of how her childhood experiences stuck in her memories. Fantasitc descriptions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    A Good Read

    This is a very interesting insight into the life of a white girl growing up in black Africa in the 1970s. The story has gaps, but it is a memoir and perhaps it is all that the author remembered. Fuller's prose is wonderfully descriptive. The reader can almost hear the hyenas howl and smell the rotting vegetation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    Bris

    Such an enjoyable read. I ate it up and will be pondering on it for sometime.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2012

    Heartwarming book

    I really liked this book. It was sad, funny and just a wonderful story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2011

    Great book!

    Very enjoyable.

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    Interesting. A good read.

    It took a good 80 pages to truly get interested in the story and used to the author's style. But after that, I enjoyed the book. Very interesting and informative. I knew NOTHING about Africa....this was very eye-opening! I enjoyed it enough to go on and read her recent "sequel." IT moved a little faster...but I suppose that's because I knew the characters and her style.

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    A Horrible Beauty of a Childhood

    I never really thought about how lucky I am and appreciate the things that I have. Since I was small I would always want this and that and never thought about the people around me, who are having a harder life style. Now that I read the book Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight, a beautiful and heartbreaking story about Alexandra Fuller's African childhood, it made me think about life more seriously and how what seems like a bad day for me is worst in a life that is full of disasters during a war, Alexandra lived through.
    This book was a very difficult book to read. Although, the actions and events were very captivating and interesting, some parts of the book are left extremely confusing. The beginning of the book is awfully hard to understand. It starts off with the present or later childhood of Alexandra, then during the next few chapters, the real opening of her African childhood starts. It is hard to comprehend what is going on in the beginning because they do not introduce the characters; this left me wondering what was happening in the book.
    The memoir does have many devastating tragedies, but never leaves you bored. When Alexandra has missionaries come to her home and teach her how to pray she wishes for a younger sibling, and sure enough she gets one. She tells herself. " She is the direct result of my prayer. I am secretly, ecstatically proud (84)", this left an imprint in my mind because I can relate to this. I remember as I child I would wish for a younger sister over and over again. It wasn't until two years later though, that my wishes came true and my sister was born. That was the happiest day of my life.
    During Alexandra's childhood, numerous events were occurring in her family and school. This also affected her surroundings, such as the country she lived in. During her childhood there was a war going on with the British and Africans. The dedicated feelings Alexandra's mom had, is a shock to me and I realize how this strongly this affects her family. She says, " We were prepared to die, you see, to keep one country white- run. (24)". Because I am born in a time where we have our own independence I do not know how this feels, but I have learned about the discrimination and segregation of the races. That is one of the ugliest things I have ever learned. It is nasty how races where ranked, teased, and killed for nothing, just because they were that certain race. Alexandra went through many different experiences from good to bad. This memoir has not only taught me about her life, but also about her country and the obstacles in life many will encounter. This is a fabulous memoir my Alexandra Fuller.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2011

    Started in South Africa, finished in US

    I started reading this in South Africa (second trip with more to follow) while visiting family (expats). From Pretoria we self drive so we get to see parts of Africa others never experience, plus we get to "visit" with the people of Africa...African, Afrikaner, and British. Our son and his family have a diverse group of friends and acquaintances; and it is fascinating to just sit and listen to each person's perspective and observe their interaction.

    Fascinating book with crazy, funny, heartbreaking vignettes throughout. Yes, Africa gets into some folks' blood (my son a little I think). Despite all my past and present obsession with Africa I know, after reading this book and then right after...Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness...I am not one of them. Much as I love to visit Africa, the romanticism has worn off. It is a continent that needs the crazy adventurism of Nicola and Tim Fuller.

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  • Posted October 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    an intriguing and satisfying read!

    the author's frankness and dry humor are totally captivating. she lets bare facts speak for themselves without moralizing or attempting to go beyond the scope of one little white girl's African experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2011

    Should read

    Good plot to many Area names Loved the story.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    Entertaining and educational

    Being raised in the city in the U.S. would not prepare you for life like growing up in Africa during the Rhodesian war. From the cigarette smoking and beer drinking to being taught to tend wounds and deliver babies in school as an eight-year old, Bobo's upbringing was anything but traditional. I envied her and pitied her at the same time. What an exciting and scary time to be a white child in Africa. A great book!

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