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Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Wise and Witty Tales of an African Childhood

Alexandra Fuller is the kind of person one dreams of being seated besides at a stale dinner party. Most of us think we have quite interesting tales to tell, but Fuller's stories of childhood in the remotest regions of Africa, which she shares in her memoir, Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, are full of familial and historical drama, tension and dysfunction, set in a landscape that few of us can imagine growing up in. Her love for the country is palpable, and she is adept at making the raw land, which is so familiar to her, accessible to us.

Born in England in 1969, Fuller moved with her parents and older sister to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1972. As her father continually leaves home to fight the African "terrorists" who are successfully regain control of the region from the whites, the rest of the family farms the land and tries to maintain a semblance of control over their life.

Fuller writes with a child's view, but her mature wit adds immensely to the telling. In particular, she portrays her mother's life with affection but without sentimentality. "Tub," as she is called, is a tough-as-nails woman who survives the loss of three babies, acts as the local health care provider to the destitute Africans, and refuses to concede what she feels is her land, her home. She becomes a heavy drinker, and many of Fuller's memories are of her mother's decline as her harsh life takes its toll.

Though Fuller is describing a very politically turbulent time in Africa, and her life experiences are obviously determined by this, her intricate, detailed descriptions offer a close-to-the-ground view of the situation, rather than a broad sweep. On a trip with her father to herd wild cattle, she falls asleep to the fire as "it flickers off the blue and orange tent in pale, dancing shapes and there is the sweet smell of the African bush, wood smoke, dust sweat. My bones are so sharp and thin against the sleeping bag that they hurt me and I must cover my hip bones with my hands. I make a vow never to leave Africa."

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is refreshingly ragged: the stories don't always flow smoothly and while some chapters are short history recaps, others are vividly detailed accounts of a single hour. But this style works. In a sense, the structure of the book mirrors the rough-edged, hardscrabble life itself. If Fuller, or her editor, had polished the edges, she would have lost the charm.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
By Alexandra Fuller
Hardcover - 368 pages (December 2001)
Random House; ISBN 0375507507