Book Review: Don’t Lets Go to The Dogs Tonight

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Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight (Random House) is a heartfelt memoir of an African childhood, told by a woman who no longer lives there. In the early 1970’s Fuller’s parents, an eccentric British couple, moved to a farm in Zimbabwe with their two daughters. Known as Rhodesia at the time, the country was in the mist of a civil war. The soil was inhospitable; the life unruly. Youth for Alexandra, who is known as “Bobo” in the memoir, was “hot, sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft.” Frangipani trees and mosquito bites. Itchy bums and milky tea. Coke n’chips, miscarriages, mums with hangovers.

In her book, she recalls the scenery that punctuated her childhood: “Cut tobacco. Fresh fire. Old sweat. Young grass.” At five Bobo can load a rifle. At six she can shoot to kill. Life is severed by rape, racism, land redistribution and Egyptian spitting cobras, and shielded by nannies with names like Violet and Loveness who sing Shona lullabies and moldmake-believe pound cakes out of soil, stick, and stone. Bobo stands out against the khaki bush “like a large marshmallow”: blond-haired, green-eyed, White-African.

Her memoir is more scrapbook than diary—not necessarily chronological, yet always captivating. Black and white snapshots introduce each vignette, providing glimpses into the extraordinary episodes of the Fuller clan. Images are recreated with vivid detail, from the election of Robert Mugabe to Bobo’s first day at boarding school. And through it all, the dogs are always present: head in paws, worried eyes, panting hotly down their owners’ necks, or barking in the middle of the night.

From tomboy to bride, young Bobo becomes an adult, inviting the reader into the backseat of her family’s mine-proof Land Rover for the ride. She explains her bond with the land on which she grew up: “When a child is born in Africa, the umbilical chord is sewn straight from the mother into the ground, where it takes root and grows. Pulling away from the ground causes death by suffocation, starvation. That’s what the people of this land believe. Deprive us of the land and you are depriving us of air, water, food, and sex.”

Reflecting on her life abroad, she admits, “I used to physically ache because I missed Africa so much.” Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight is the story of her love affair with this cruel and comforting continent.