Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

by Alexandra Fuller

Paperback, 2003




Random House Trade Paperbacks (2003), 336 pages


Born in England and now living in Wyoming, Fuller was conceived and bred on African soil during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979), a world where children over five "learn[ed] how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill." With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents' racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child's watchful eyes.

Media reviews

library thing
Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight: An Africa Childhood by Alexandra Fuller who was born in England but was raised in Rhodesia by an “absented mind” mother, an “always on the go and work to do” father and with an “I mind my own business and you all can go to hell” older sister. The book is about her childhood in Africa. There are witty passages and sad ones and a lot about Africa

User reviews

LibraryThing member Zmrzlina
There is a great deal about the war for independence fought in what was Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, the read seems more about what is a normal childhood and what isn't. Living with extreme heat, "terrorists," war and racial exclusion is normal for Fuller. I like that she doesn't dwell on the difference her "normal" childhood is from anyone else's "normal" childhood.

There are instances when her colonialist heritage sneaks into the narrative, like when she mentions the condition of the hospitals and schools after Zimbabwe independence and how they were before. But, I think she deals with the European role in this part of Africa with a level hand, not playing too much into one side or the other. Just trying to present it as it was, through the eyes of a child, which are the most honest eyes.

Very good read. It isn't always as smooth a read as I would like; story jumps back in time abruptly and it isn't always clear from what time the story is being told. However, Fuller is a wonderful storyteller. She is over-awed by her older sister, under-awed by her environment (which really made for a more interesting story!) and always honest and forthright.
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
A wonderfully written memoir of growing up in Africa . Fuller was born in Rhodesia now Zimbabwe in 1967. Living with her parents and sister on a farm , they are hardworking and serve as an example of those struggling to survive in a brutal land. Fuller tells her story with humour amidst such tragedy and horror in this war torn country. I found this insightful in regard to the current political climate in Zimbabwe with President Mugabe and the conflict with white farmers. Perceptive, political and tragic. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member JoyfullyRetired
It’s the 1970’s and Bobo (Alexandra) has been living in Rhodesia since she was two. She’s a young white girl, born to English parents. That’s her on the cover of the book. Don’t you love that expression on her face? She is curious, feisty while still being a sweet child. What I really admired is her strong inner core, her fierceness. She needs it for Africa is her home. It is all she knows. She loves her country but it’s also frightening.

In this memoir of her early childhood, Alexandra, called Bobo, recalls the details of her family life as well as the events in her country. Rhodesia was fighting to be free of British rule. It succeeded (becoming Zimbabwe) but it was not the safest environment for a young white girl. Bobo learned, at a young age, to be proficient with an uzi and other weapons.

Bobo/Alexandra’s family life was also complicated. They were poor, moved a lot, drank even more and experienced the loss of three children. Only Bobo and her older sister survived. To be kind, I’ll say that her mother is a character. She swings back and forth in her moods, is a strong racist, and drinks so much some days that she neglects her children. But the family holds themselves together with an enormous bond.

Alexandra tells the story in Bobo’s voice and from Bobo’s head. It worked very well for me. I could hear the little girl as she observed and interacted with the world around her. The earliest accounts skip around a bit as does a child when telling you about events. The book has both it’s sad and humorous moments. I sobbed reading about the drowning death of Bobo’s little sister. I hooted out loud when reading about the visit of two missionarys – the horrible tea and sandwiches and their quick departure after sitting on a couch loaded with fleas.

One of the best parts of Alexandra Fuller’s writing is her ability to convey to the reader the sights, sounds and smell of Africa.

"What I can’t know about Africa as a child (because I have no memory of any other place) is her smell: hot, sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft. It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass."

This is a beautifully written trip to another place and another time. I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Alexandra Fuller is white and she is African. Her family has been in Africa for 3 generations, each one struggling harder to survive than the last. Though undeniably in a better position than the black Africans who simultaneously serve and resent them, the family suffers through the same hardships: draught, hunger, lost babies, lack of medicine, lack of water, cerebral malaria and the perpetual need to fight for survival. It's hard for me to find something to specifically object to - Fuller chronicles her parents' casual racism with unflinching honesty and she really excels at describing family moments in an authentic way. But there's a 'but' coming: the book didn't resonate with me. I read things but I did not feel them. I never really cared about what happened to Fuller or her family. If you want to read something about life in Africa, you're better off with Scribbling the Cat, Fuller's later work about her travels through Africa with a deeply damaged former soldier. That book captures the struggle, the anger, the confusion, the strength and passion for life that only childhood in wartime Africa can instill.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The tone of this memoir of "an African childhood" is set in the very first lines:

Mum says, "Don't come creeping into our room at night."

They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, "Don't startle us when we're sleeping."

"Why not?"

"We might shoot you."


"By mistake."

"Okay." As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. "Okay, I won't."

Dangerous, slightly insane, quite funny. That's her childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). My first impression of her family? Well, I thought it proof that parents are put here on Earth to completely embarrass their children. I know this. Yet I thought Alexandra Fuller's parents really took the prize and it was a good thing she had such a great sense of humor. Fuller doesn't pull any punches--not about the violence, corruption and poverty she often saw in Africa, nor her parents' racist views nor her mother's alcoholism. Yet Fuller said in an afterword that this story "unfurled as a love story about Africa and my family." And by the end I absolutely saw that. Despite mercilessly (and often hilariously) exposing her parents flaws, there's evident affection and respect there, and gradually I began to see why.

At the same time, this was just a joy to read. Fuller has a sharp wit, and an eye for details that bring South Central Africa to life--the sounds, the smells, the wildlife, the clashes between her little Eurocentric colonial world and that of native Africans and the ability to reacquaint you with the mindset of childhood. Part travelogue of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, part history of the waning of the colonial era, part affecting coming of age tale, I was hooked from the beginning and never was there one paragraph I wanted to skip over. I was completely charmed.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElizabethAndrew
A vivid portrait of growing up white in central Africa. Fuller's love for her parents' hard-scrabble farms and the African landscape is palpable; her writing is lovely. She's unabashed about her family's post-colonial, racial attitudes, which made me wish for more reflection. With memoirs like this that are primarily a record of childhood, I usually wonder WHY these stories might matter, to the author or to her reader. But I did enjoy the read.

"What I can’t know about Africa as a child (because I have no memory of any other place) is her smell; hot, sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft. It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass. When, years later, I leave the continent for the first time and arrive in the damp wool sock of London-Heathrow, I am (as soon as I poke my head up from the intestinal process of travel) most struck not by the sight, but by the smell of England. How flat-empty it is; car fumes, concrete, street-wet." (130)
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LibraryThing member jessibud2
This book was an interesting read. Alexandra Fuller writes of her life growing up in Africa, from the perspective of her childhood memories and impressions. The writing was vivid, honest and at times, both heartbreaking and harrowing. The choices made by her parents, and the life they chose to carve out for themselves in some of the harshest places in Africa was a rough one, and not always easy to read. Over and over, I felt grateful and relieved to have grown up where I did, in the life that I did, safe and secure, above all else. Boring perhaps but then, I guess I am just not an adventurous spirit. Her style of hyphenating several words to create a new word or phrase is creative, I suppose, but began to wear on me and annoy after awhile, but apart from that, the writing was fine.

What intrigued me more, though, if I am to be honest, was googling her after finishing the book and watching her speak on several youtube interviews. She comes across as a very articulate, intelligent and *together* type of person, and that made me feel good; to know that in spite of her rather un-typical upbringing, she has forged a life for herself that is productive, successful and positive. I would seek out others of her books.
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LibraryThing member ursula
Alexandra Fuller's memoir of growing up in Africa was first of all, compulsively readable. I had a hard time putting it down. As is often the case in memoirs, her parents are kind of crazy, and it's easy to be as amused by their antics as you are appalled. Bobo, as Fuller is known in the book, is raised on a series of small, barely profitable tobacco farms in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe), Malawi, and Zambia.

She's a bit of a wild child, as is probably to be expected from the combination of permissive parents, remote locations, and a backdrop of civil war and societal unrest. Her family goes into town in a convoy including soldiers and their own mine-proofed SUV. She drinks, smokes, and learns to shoot an Uzi at an early age. The casual racism of the time and situation are presented without commentary or explanation, which can be interpreted as brave. I think there is often a tendency to want to rush in after the fact and explain it away, to reassure the reader than you know much better now. But at the same time, I was left curious regarding how Fuller feels about all of that now.

There's no doubt that Fuller and her family have deep roots and a sincere love for the physical land of Africa, but I found myself contemplating what it really means to love a country when you're simultaneously oppressing and displacing its people. (Yes, I'm aware of clear parallels to the original American settlers - and that brings up the idea of history being written by the victors. The Americans won their country, while the English/Dutch etc were mostly driven out of Africa; is that the difference?) Although the family in the book isn't perpetrating many of the most egregious acts of colonialism, the fact remains that their farm is on land that only white people could own, they have black servants, and they clearly think the black Africans are inferior. Is it possible to really love a place without accepting its people?

Quote: "There is only one time of absolute silence. Halfway between the dark of night and the light of morning, all animals and crickets and birds fall into a profound silence as if pressed quiet by the deep quality of the blackest time of night. This is when we are startled awake by Dad on tobacco-sale day. This silence is how I know it is not yet dawn, nor is it the middle of the night, but it is the place of no-time, when all things sleep most deeply, when their guard is dozing, and when terrorists (who know this fact) are most likely to attack."
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
Finished reading Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight and am in love with it. What a charming, disturbing, romping book it is. Alexandra Fuller tells of her childhood in east Africa as a part of a "hard scrabble" family moving from one country to another, constantly ducking the danger of being white in a land rediscovering its black power. The empires were dying and a new "order" had not yet emerged but this family with a mother who was at best very eccentric and at worst was mentally ill, and a father who just put his head down and kept working, and two girls who had not choice, this family kept finding ways to survive and sometimes thrive.

I loved the book. When I was about 8 my mother thought she was dying of TB and "gave" me to her best friend. This friend, Johanna, took me to Kate and Emmett's farm in central Idaho where I wandered about in the heat of summer with the pigs, and cows, and chickens, magpies, and wind rustling through the trees. I developed a soul deep love for "country" and the heat of summer, the smells of dusty barns, of chicken shit, and watching the chickens flow around in the grass after their heads had been chopped off. I particularly remember the smell of cleaning the chicken so Kate could cook it for us.

All these Idaho memories gave me the capacity to viscerally understand Alexandra's love for her African countryside, with all the dirt, and bugs, and dangerous animals. I know that feeling of running amok in the country, and wish every child should be so lucky as to have that experience.

I recommend this book heartily and I think I'll try to find a way to add some of the books she recommends to my lists of books I must find time to read.
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Listened to as an audiobook. This is a startling book. I was amazed to think that this story took place in the middle of my very boring, middle-class, American life. This is not an African story set in the remote romanticism of "Out of Africa." Funny, wrenching, surprising. I liked this book alot. White family on the edge of Africa becoming an African continent again. I would very much recommend this memoir.… (more)
LibraryThing member dquazzo
a vivid story of a family in Africa living through two wars -- their own wild family dynamics (alcoholism, et al) and the black revolution in Africa (they are white.)
LibraryThing member barbaracornell
We read this for our contemporary Fiction Book Club November 2007. I loved it but some not so much. One of our members who was born in south Africa and lived there until she was 6, vouched for the content.
LibraryThing member danrebo
Funny and arrestingly descriptive of a time and place in Africa that was anything but romantic. Gut wrenching and honest as she recounts its racism, brutality and poverty. Family dysfunction nevertheless includes real warmth from the perspective of her childhood and adolescence. Innocent but not entirely so as the narrator's reflection hints at a considered, wiser approach to who she was at that time.… (more)
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
Wonderfully written, funny and poignant at the same time, sensual descriptions of Africa - made me want to go back to this powerful place.
LibraryThing member sarahferstel
This was a very interesting look into one white family's life in south Africa (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi) during the political turmoil of the 70s. Fuller's narrative is largely anecdotal, but I think this is an honest way to present a story that begins when she is a very young girl. The author does not romanticize Africa nor she sugar coat her family's life, attitudes or political beliefs. Though her family often seems callous and obtuse in their belief that whites "belong in Africa," their love for Africa is apparent on every page.… (more)
LibraryThing member BinnieBee
This was a very interesting book, I thought. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I do like memoirs and autobiographies.
LibraryThing member nopressure1
Childhood during the Rhodesian Civil War in an English farming family
LibraryThing member kelli_99
Delightful read about the author's experiences while growing up as British "settlers" during the Rhodesian civil war. A bit irreverent and sad at times, but also very funny. An entirely satisfying story.
LibraryThing member eembooks
Wonderful memoir about growing up in Africa esp as the girl has crazy parents.
LibraryThing member kcslade
OK memoir of growing up in Africa.
LibraryThing member cynthia.brandt
Loved. I thought about this book for weeks after I read it...
LibraryThing member SelimaCat
An unsentimental, but stirring autobiography about growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Fuller's measured tone works well to paint pictures of the parents and sister--not necessarily sympathetic characters. She achieves a nice balance in communicating the foreign and the mundane of her home life. Worth a read.
LibraryThing member lcrouch
I started this book and, although I was prepared to get drawn in, didn't. I am going through a phase that, if I don't like the characters, I'm not likely to continue reading. So I stopped and started something else. Not having finished the book, I don't think it is fair to rate it.
LibraryThing member jentifer
This is an unflinching and honest memoir of a girl growing up in Africa, the daughter of white farmers who longed to keep "just one state white-run." Fuller's sentimentality avoids resting on any one person or event, instead it alights on the smells and sounds of her home country. This is a very absorbing and quick read.
LibraryThing member shazjhb
It is always sad for me to read about Africa and this was particular sad. I always wonder how African people can be so wonderful to each other and add such joy to people's lives but are unable to run a country or not kill each other. Growing up white in Africa makes reading books like this so interesting.


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Original publication date


Physical description

336 p.; 5.2 inches


0375758992 / 9780375758997

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