Title: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Release date: March 11, 2003
Publisher: Random House
Source: Personal collection (nonfiction book club)
Rating: 5 out of 5
It is perhaps a fool’s errand to try to write one thing about Africa. It is an enormous continent of nuance and contradiction that refuses to be summarized neatly. There is so much history—hell, from the beginning of mankind itself—and it’s difficult for the newbie to know where to begin learning. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is an excellent place to start.
Fuller eloquently explores the passion, violence, inequity, tragedy, and optimism of her homeland. Having spent her childhood in the countries now known as Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia, Fuller explores the experiences she and her family shared as white Africans in a region bound inexorably for independence.
The places I’ve been—south and east Africa—have had one thing in common: they tease the senses. The African continent can be a big, loud, meditative, bustling, bright, beautiful, sad, chaotic, hopeful place, and Fuller somehow captures all of this and more. She has a extraordinary talent for description, for employing description to transport the readers to moments in her life that are both brief and enduring:
It’s eyeball-burning hot. I lie on my belly and let my legs wag lazily back and forth, my head in the crook of my arms where my forehead is pressing a sweaty band into the skin. Mum is reading to herself. It is so hot that the flamboyant tree outside cracks to itself, as if already anticipating how it will feel to be on fire. The dogs are splayed on the floor, wherever they can find bare cement, panting and creating wet pools with their dripping tongues. Our throats are papered with the heat; we sip at cups of cold, milky tea just enough to make spit in our mouths. The sky and air are so thick with wildfire smoke that we can’t see the hills, they are distant, gauzy shapes, the same color as the haze, only denser. The air is hot, yellow-gray, a breathless, breath-sucking color. Swollen clouds scrape purple, fat bellies on the tops of the surrounding hills.
That passage is long, but each sentence is perfectly crafted. I wanted to type the entire thing out just to practice writing like that. But there are dozens of other such passages that I underlined that communicate a scene or a moment in stunning, original prose. Fuller is adept at transporting her readers to a place and a memory so that we feel as though we were there, we too went through these joyous and heartbreaking experiences, we too grasp just a fragment of Africa’s complexity.
I began reading this memoir in Zambia, a country featured in the book’s beginning and end. More than an academic tome could, this book reveals the innards of colonialism and institutionalized racism—as well as the tumult and triumph of independence. Fuller weaves snippets of her memories and feelings in with searing descriptions and a knowledge of the region that is accessible to the newbie while offering an honest, unflinching look at the complex history of the continent she calls home.
It is gorgeously, sumptuously written, with a fully developed voice. Obviously, I highly recommend this book! It’s one that I will return to again and again as I tackle writing my own memoir.
Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight from an independent bookstore or Amazon (a Kindle version is available). Each sale from these links helps support Melody & Words.