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.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is surprisingly engaging and even moving.
New York Times
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“The Africa of this beautiful book is not easy to forget. Despite, or maybe even because of, the snakes, the leopards, the malaria and the sheer craziness of its human inhabitants, often violent but pulsing with life, it seems like a fine place to grow up, at least if you are as strong, passionate, sharp and gifted as Alexandra Fuller.”—Chicago Tribune
“Owning a great story doesn’t guarantee being able to tell it well. That’s the individual mystery of talent, a gift with which Alexandra Fuller is richly blessed, and with which she illuminates her extraordinary memoir. . . . There’s flavor, aroma, humor, patience . . . and pinpoint observational acuity.”—Entertainment Weekly
“This is a joyously telling memoir that evokes Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club as much as it does Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa.”—New York Daily News
“Riveting . . . [full of] humor and compassion.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“The incredible story of an incredible childhood.”—The Providence Journal
“Fuller’s look back at her early life in an English family at the violent tail end of colonialism is sad and hilarious.”—USA Today
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
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.”
“We might shoot you.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
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.”