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

by

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

 

 

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?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 9 comments:

S Holladay, November 14, 2014 (view all comments by S Holladay)
I'm a sucker for children's voice memoirs such as bone black by bell hooks and This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff. Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood is right up there too. She pitch perfectly describes a childhood living with flamboyant parents, and goes into even more detail about her alcoholic mother in her next memoir, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. Fuller also describes the different countries in Africa she lived in simultaneously from the disadvantaged position of a child and privileged position as a white British person. This would make a great gift to a mom or a sister.
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Zoe C, October 11, 2014 (view all comments by Zoe C)
My school had the privilege of having Alexandra Fuller come and talk to us about living in Africa. I was slightly confused about why she was there, but as she talked to one of my classes about living in Africa during a time of war, I automatically wanted to read her book. Now, I was able to read it and I can say I never wanted to put down the book.
Being in revolutionary Africa, I would think that living in Africa would be terrifying with being cautious of land mines and terrorist. Fuller recalls her childhood life in Africa. Some parts of her life were fun and exciting, but others were terrifying and scarring. She talks about the dangers of living in a rural African farm house such as nightly raids and land mines. To a five year old, this would be too terrifying.
Living a very sheltered life, I would not be able to deal with what Alexandra Fuller did. After reading this book, it opened my eyes on events that I never even knew about. Overall, this is something you want to read! The detail of this book makes you feel like you are right there with her!
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adrian_p43, November 3, 2012 (view all comments by adrian_p43)
Good book
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(3 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375758997
Subtitle:
An African Childhood
Author:
Fuller, Alexandra
Publisher:
Random House Trade
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
History
Subject:
Girls
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Childhood Memoir
Subject:
Zimbabwe
Subject:
Africa - General
Subject:
Zimbabwe - History - Chimurenga War, 1966-
Subject:
Fuller, Alexandra - Childhood and youth
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography-Childhood Memoir
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Subject:
Biography - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
v. 12
Publication Date:
20030331
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8 x 5.15 x 0.71 in 0.5 lb

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Biography » Historical
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » Staff Picks
History and Social Science » Africa » General
History and Social Science » Africa » Zimbabwe
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » Featured Titles
History and Social Science » World History » Africa

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Random House Trade - English 9780375758997 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

In her 2001 debut, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller recalled in vivid, often excruciating detail coming of age in Rhodesia as a long civil war raged in neighboring Mozambique and her own country slid down the violent path toward an independent, African Nationalist regime. Dogs astounded readers with its candor, describing from a young girl's point of view a wild landscape of far-reaching beauty and a continent in the throes of a vicious political antagonism she could not yet comprehend. Narrating from within her own family's constant struggle for survival, Fuller brilliantly assimilated the dangers of war (land mines planted on the road to the local store, guerillas camping in the nearby hills) into the relentless domestic tumult around her, so that readers could hardly distinguish between the two. The Boston Globe, echoing the opinion of critics and readers around the world, marveled, "The extremely personal and unguarded understatement of this memoir is far more powerful than any sociopolitical analysis or apologist interpretation could hope to be."

"Review" by , "This is not a book you read just once, but a tale of terrible beauty to get lost in over and over."
"Review" by , "Fuller is a gifted writer, capable of bringing a sense of immediacy to her writing and crafting descriptions so vibrant the reader cannot only picture the stifling hot African afternoon but almost feel it as well."
"Review" by , "By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring...hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling."
"Review" by , "Vivid, insightful and sly... Bottom line: Out of Africa, brilliantly."
"Review" by , "A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving and even delightful journey through a white African girl's childhood....Fuller's book has the promise of being widely read and remaining of interest for years to come."
"Review" by , "This was no ordinary childhood, and it makes a riveting story thanks to an extraordinary telling."
"Review" by , "Nobody has ever written a book about growing up white in rural Africa the way Alexandra Fuller has. Her voice is mordant, her ear uncanny. Her unsentimentality is a pleasant shock. Her sense of humor is extremely sly. Without a trace of pretension, she quietly performs what is really a major literary feat — nailing both the poetry and the myopia of a child?s experience in a brawling, bad-luck family on the losing side of an anti-colonial war." William Finnegan, author of Crossing the Line: A Year in the Land of Apartheid and Cold New World: Growing Up in Harder Country
"Review" by , "[A] gripping memoir...made up, in equal parts, of stark, matter-of-fact reminiscences about her childhood and fierce, Dinesenesque paeans to the land of Africa."
"Review" by , "As casually unadorned as rawhide, and just about as tough....The extremely personal and unguarded understatement of this memoir is far more powerful than any sociopolitical analysis or apologist interpretation could hope to be."
"Synopsis" by , Fuller, known to friends and family as Bobo, grew up on several farms in southern and central Africa. But Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is more than a survivor's story: It is the story of one woman's unbreakable bond with a continent and the people who inhabit it, a portrait lovingly realized and deeply felt. A Book Sense Selection. Photos.
"Synopsis" by , 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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