Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Monday, June 22, 2015

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
by Alexandra Fuller

In her memoir of growing up in Africa, Fuller paints a vivid and unflinching portrait of her unconventional childhood. Alexandra, who goes by Bobo, lived with her parents and sister in Rhodesia in the midst of Civil War in the 1970s. The daily dangers they face become the norm as they grow up.

The style of the book reminded me quite a bit of The Liar’s Club and The Glass Castle. All three are similar tales of a somewhat neglected upbringing. This one is more extreme because it’s in Africa. The threat of terrorists and war increases the danger, but the struggle of a child growing up with alcoholic and selfish parents is a universal one.

Loss is a major theme throughout the book. Bobo and her family lose multiple children and at times their grief overwhelms them. Some of the surreal experiences Fuller describes almost seem normal when she writes about them. Certain aspects remind you that they are not anywhere near the western world, like the sanitary conditions, which were appalling. The kids constantly had worms or fleas and were often left to fend for themselves.

The circumstances of their life felt so foreign. There was no structure. Their existence depended on the whims of their irresponsible parents. Bobo’s older sister Vanessa was a somewhat stable force in her life. She seemed to understand more about what was happening, but she protected her sister as much as she could.

BOTTOM LINE: I love reading memoirs that give me a glimpse into a completely foreign life and this one did just that. I don’t envy Fuller’s childhood, but it was fascinating to read about. 

“The land itself, of course, was careless of its name. It still is. You can call it what you like, fight all the wars you want in its name. Change its name altogether if you like. The land is still unblinking under the African sky. It will absorb white man's blood and the blood of African men, it will absorb blood from slaughtered cattle and the blood from a woman's birthing with equal thirst. It doesn't care.” 


Kay said...

What a terrible sounding childhood! I read The Liar's Club and so can sort of imagine. I keep meaning to read The Glass Castle. Putting that one back on my list along with this one.

Anonymous said...

I've heard so many great things about this book and yet have never read it. I'm not much for memoirs, but i do love travelling to foreign lands in my reading.

Andi said...

Never HAD ANY IDEA what this was about. And truthfully, my mind always went to that book about the kid with autism the title of which just left me. Ugh. Anyway, I didn't like this book, so the association was killing it for me. Going to see if this one is on Scribd.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kay - The Glass Castle was really good!

52booksorbust - The African setting really made it a unique coming-of-age book. I loved it on audio too.

Andi - Ha, there are so many books that I do that with. My book club picked this one and that's the only reason I checked it out.

thecuecard said...

This memoir sounds rough. Sometimes drunk, irresponsible parents can drive me nuts. I'm not sure if I want to stomach this one but I do like memoirs set in Africa. So I might ...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

thecuecard - It was definitely rough at times. Not a light read.

Life and Dreaming said...

This is a superb book. If I ever end up on a desert island, this book better come with me! Her writing is beautiful, lyrical, descriptive. It is indeed an unflinching look at her family, but she explains why her parents were the way they were (and goes into more detail in "Cocktails Under the Tree of Forgetfulness").

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Aparatchick - I might have to read that one. I'd love to learn more about her parents and how they got to that point.