July 03, 2003

Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller

This is a book I picked up on a whim while at Tower Books in Sacramento. The title caught my eye, as did the cover picture, of a little mop-haired girl roaring like a lion; the words "National Bestseller" (Oh, really? I'd never seen it before.) and "Reading Group Guide" did not.

It's the author's memoir of her own childhood in Africa--first in Rhodesia, and later in Malawi and Zambia. Her parents were farmers; tobacco, mostly, but also cattle. They were members of the white upper class in Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe; later they were simply members of the white minority wherever they lived.

It was a hard life, both before and after Zimbabwe came to be; I don't suppose the life of a farmer is easy in any country, and it was worsened by circumstances; Fuller's mother gave birth to five children, of whom only two lived to adulthood. The second child, a boy, died of meningitis at an early age; the fourth, a girl, drowned in a duckpond when she was two years old (and that was a hard section to read, let me tell you); the fifth was stillborn.

It was a hard life, and as the Fullers had little money and were white besides, they could only farm the worst land. They stayed, despite the death of their children, despite tedium, despite alcoholism, because they loved Africa. Alexandra has married an American and moved to the United States, but her parents are there still.

This is a poignant book, and is filled with all kinds of fascinating details about life in Africa; Fuller neither preaches nor moralizes, trusting that her story will speak for itself, which it does. I didn't enjoy it that much, however, for I didn't like her family all that much, and it's not a happy story. Also, it was marred by a self-consciously literary tone (at one point, the African morning clutters into the room, which is jarring, though perhaps), and by a too-narrow focus on the author's own life. More background on the recent history of Africa and the countries in which she lived would have been helpful, even if it was information she didn't have growing up.

Still, I'm not sorry I read it; it forms an interesting contrast to several other books I'll be reviewing in the next couple of days.

Posted by Will Duquette at July 3, 2003 08:01 PM