Monday, March 4, 2013

Book review - Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – an African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller,  Random House, NY 2001. 

Although published first, I read this book after I read Cocktails under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a biography of her mother,  by the same author (reviewed in June 2012).  Accordingly the thrust of the story was already known to me. Nonetheless, this autobiography was entertaining and revealing in its own right.

The author, called Bobo as a child, was born in England, but grew up in Africa – in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.  Her family was quite self contained. Her parents had the bad luck to end up on every out-of- the- way run- down farm or plantation out there.  Bobo’s mother, Nicola, was an alcoholic whose problems were compounded by mental instability.  Depression at least partially attributed to the fact that she lost three babies resulted in Nicola often neglected her daughters - omissions that taught them self reliance. Throughout, Bobo and her older sister Vanessa coped.

Life was not easy on the Zimbabwe farm tucked up against the border of Mozambique during Zimbabwe’s civil war.  “Terrorists” as the African insurgents were called posed an ever present threat.  Bobo’s parents always had automatic weapons at their sides, even while they slept.   The house was full of dogs, who accompanied Bobo and her mother on their daily horse rides.  Bobo’s early memories are of this house, the servants, the problems, the travels and the adventures.  Independence came. The whites lost the war, so the situation for them changed dramatically; not just politically, but economically and socially.  For example, Bobo’s whites only school was inundated by African children.  Furthermore the racial superiority practiced by white settlers was no longer tolerated. Children like Bobo handled these changes better than adults.

Yet, the Fullers stayed on.  They adapted and survived. They moved successively to an abandoned ranch, then on to a tobacco plantation in Malawi and finally to a farm in Zambia. 

Bobo’s memoir is replete with candid anecdotes of daily life and familial interactions; often told via dialogue.  The author has a keen memory of how they spoke. She vividly constructs a picture of what her life was like.  Given the oddness of her upbringing and her eccentric parents, it is a bit amazing that she turned out normal.  But apparently, she did.

For those who want a glimpse of another time and place, this is an interesting memoir.

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