Book Sense Best Nonfiction Book of 2002
A New York Times Notable Book of 2002
Synopses & Reviews
In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with visceral authenticity. 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.
From 1972 to 1990, Alexandra Fuller — known to friends and family as Bobo — grew up on several farms in southern and central Africa. Her father joined up on the side of the white government in the Rhodesian civil war, and was often away fighting against the powerful black guerilla factions. Her mother, in turn, flung herself at their African life and its rugged farm work with the same passion and maniacal energy she brought to everything else. Though she loved her children, she was no hand-holder and had little tolerance for neediness. She nurtured her daughters in other ways: She taught them, by example, to be resilient and self-sufficient, to have strong wills and strong opinions, and to embrace life wholeheartedly, despite and because of difficult circumstances. And she instilled in Bobo, particularly, a love of reading and of storytelling that proved to be her salvation.
A worthy heir to Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, Alexandra Fuller writes poignantly about a girl becoming a woman and a writer against a backdrop of unrest, not just in her country but in her home. 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.
"This is not a book you read just once, but a tale of terrible beauty to get lost in over and over." Newsweek
"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." Booklist
"By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring...hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling." The New Yorker
"Vivid, insightful and sly... Bottom line: Out of Africa, brilliantly." People
"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." Publishers Weekly
"This was no ordinary childhood, and it makes a riveting story thanks to an extraordinary telling." School Library Journal
"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 childs 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
"[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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"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." The Boston Globe
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.
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.
About the Author
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.
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?