I would never have selected this book to read for a few reasons: it’s nonfiction; it’s a memoir/autobiography; it’s set on the African continent; and it’s not by someone I know anything about. Now I have nothing against any of these things, they’re just not on my usual list of go-to’s for books to read and that’s why I’m glad book group chose auto/biographies and memoirs this year. We’ve already done Fun Home and Girl In A Band, and there are a few interesting ones left on the list, so we’ll see what’s next.
That being said, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It did take a little longer to read than expected, but adjusting to a new job while trying to read a piece of nonfiction wasn’t exactly the brightest idea, but that’s book group for you. I think it also didn’t help that Fuller’s story telling style would I think be better in person or as a spoken story rather than a written narrative.
It was hard to know what I was expecting from this book. Going in I didn’t know if it would be about the revolutions/civil wars that took place or if it was going to be about post-colonialism. I also had no idea where in the hierarchy of white settlers Fuller’s story would fall. Thankfully, it sort of talks about all of this but through the eyes of a child.
Reading about a country’s racial and economic divide and eventually about a revolution/civil war through the eyes of a child was different. I’ve read books about WWII from a child’s perspective, but this one with the added complication of race and colonization created a new experience. I think the fact that Fuller’s family rode the line between poor and destitute (for a white family) also added a different perspective.
Her description of the first black kid to attend her private school after the revolution was incredibly poignant when she realized that she was incredibly poor by some standards no matter her race. And she doesn’t really understand this and her white privilege until later in the book
“And this is how I am almost fourteen years old before I am formally invited into the home of a black African to share food. This is not the same as coming uninvited into Africans’ homes, which I have done many times. As a much younger child, I would often eat with my exasperated nannies at the compound (permanently hungry and always demanding), and I had sometimes gone into the laborers’ huts with my mother if she was attending someone too sick to come to the house for treatment.” (243)
Apart from this, what moved me were her descriptions of the land and country. You can tell she truly loves the continent by how she describes the land, the weather and the animals. Even the passages where she describes the unbearable heat and the dry season have a beauty to them.
“Once, I discovered the skulls of two impala rams, their horns locked into an irreversible figure-of-eight; the two animals had been trapped in combat, latched to each other during the battle of the rut. The harder they had pulled to escape from each other, the more intractably stuck they were, until they had fallen exhausted, to their knees, in an embrace of hatred that had killed them both.” (205)
“And it is truly a stunning, low-hanging, deep-bellied sunrise. A vividly pink sky under thick gray clouds. Thick, gray, massing, rolling, swollen-bellied clouds. We blink into their pile upon pile of gray and we are briefly, startlingly sober.” (291)
I did feel she short-shifted the last half of the novel when she was no longer living in Africa, because I would’ve liked to know more about her adapting to other parts of the world. But, I guess that was clear in the title as the subtitle is “An African Childhood.”
Recommendation: I have no idea if there are other, better works out there, but for an introduction to this type of literature and this geographic area it wasn’t bad. I felt Fuller did a decent job representing her perspective of the historical events she lived through. The writing was easy to read and the stories/memories she chose to share were interesting and poignant to her story.
Line: “Mum says, ‘Don’t come creeping into our room at night.'”
Closing Line: “” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
Additional Quotes from Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
“It is five o’clock Greenwich Mean Time. When I was younger I used to believe it was called ‘Mean’ time because it was English time. I used to believe that African time was ‘Kind’ time.”(12)
“I throw my head back and watch the light-gray smoke I exhale against black sky, the bright cherry at the tip of my cigarette against deep forever. The stars are silver tubes of light going back endlessly, years and light-years into themselves. The wind shifts restlessly.” (19)
“Zimbabwe, they called the country. From dzimba dza mabwe, ‘houses of stone.'” (25)
“The welcome mat had only been out for a relative moment or two when the Africans realized a welcome mat as not what they needed for their European guests. When they saw that the Europeans were the kind of guests who slept with your wife, enslaved your children, and stole your cattle, they saw that they needed sharp spears and young men who knew how to use them. The war drums were brought out from dark corners and dusted off and the old men who knew how to beat the war drums, who knew which rhythms would pump up the fighting blood of the young men, were told to start beating the drums.” (25)
“My soul has no home. I am neither African nor English nor am I of the sea.” (35)
“The valley represented the insanity of the tropics so precarious for the fragile European psyche. The valley could send you into a spiral of madness overnight if you were white and highly strung. Which we were.” (47)
“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.” (79)
“In the hot, slow time of day when time and sun and thought slow to a dragging, shallow, pale crawl, there is the sound of heat. The grasshoppers and crickets sing and whine. Drying grass crackles. Dogs pant. There is the sound of breath and breathing, of an entire world collapsed under the apathy of the tropics.” (134)
“I startle awake, in the quick, gasping, suddenly alert way of all people who have lived in a war (and for which there is no cure, ever, not even now).” (135)
“He is a man who has seen too much pain of his own to ignore the pain of a fellow creature.” (283)
“The flowers for the wedding have been done by a drunken homosexual from the Copperbelt. His flower arrangements, his way of life, his entire philosophy, everything about the man is centered upon the theme of disguise. My wedding bouquet is made from wild African weeds, not flowers.” (304)