44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2003
I loved this book. I have been fascinated with Africa for some time and have read quite a few books about growing up there (autobiographical and fictional). However after I bought this book it sat on my shelf for sometime. For some reason I kept putting off reading it as I wasn't in the mood for another book on the subject. What a mistake. It was different from the other books I'd read and drew me in much more. I was immediately hooked and could not put it down.
Right from the start, when the author talks about getting softly drunk with mother the night before returning to boarding school, and then smoking with her father while he commisertes with her because she won't be able to smoke at school, you know you are in for something different. And that was just the start of it.
I was also fascinated by the fact that the author was born in the same year as me, so all along I was comparing her life to mine and being astonished at how different it was. A very hard life at times, but I was also envious! I have been to Zimbabwe, as well as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, but only on fleeting holidays. However I felt very drawn to the place and this book made the tie seem stronger, as though there was an actual reason for it rather than just my imagination.
Also, by the end of the book, I felt as though Alexandra Fuller was a friend. I was upset to loose touch with her and would love to know more about how she is adapting to life in the US as I really cannot imagine her there.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2003
My wife bought this book for me as she knew that I had been brought up in Rhodesia in the mid-1960's, just before Alexandra was born.
Like her, I too was born in the UK and my family had emigrated to Southern Rhodesia in 1963. I saw the breakup of the Federation Of Rhodesia and Nyasaland at the end of 1963, and was in Salisbury (now Harare) for Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th, 1965. I can honestly say that the whole period were my happiest times as a child. Sad for me that I had to leave with my family at the end of 1965 because of the imposition of economic sanctions and the concomitant demise of Rhodesia Air Services which my father navigated for. I still believe that if U.D.I. had never happened I would be living there now.
Alexandra's account of her life takes place after I had left the country. Strange then that it would evoke the most extraordinary emotional response in me, nearly forty years on from when I left there. Reading this book brought back many, mostly happy, memories for me that I had either forgot, suppressed or repressed. It brought back my childhood to me - so vividly that I will always be grateful to the author.
I choose not to go into too much detail of the war that went on as I was not there. Suffice it to say that in late 1965 when a State of Emergency was declared following riots in an African township, my parents went outside into the garden and drank gin and tonics, saying "What state of emergency?", so distant, and therefore protected and insulated from reality they were. In the detail of Alexandra's account, one can learn what it was like to be a child on the front line in the 1970's, with her father regularly going on patrol to hunt down 'terrorists' in the bush. This brutal reality is told with great honesty from a childs perpective.
On the other hand, to my mind, the best things that Alexandra describes are the little items that made up an white African childhood in those days. For example, the mixing of Afrikaans sayings into usual English conversation e.g. "Agh, sis" (meaning "yuck"); using the word "brookies" (a joke from my childhood - book title "Girl In The Tree" by I.C.Brooks) i.e. knickers; using "Ja" instead of 'yes'; and regardless of the gender to whom one is talking, always ending a sentence with "man".
She describes items a child might see such as 'penny cools' (which were tubes of plastic filled with frozen fruit juice), Willards crisps and ProNutro.
Incidents such as the killing of a cobra by her mother reminds me of when a boomslang met its own demise in a neighbour's garden. Or the singing of pop songs by Alexandra and her sister on kopjies to all and sundry.
But ultimately it is her experiences as a white African child that Alexandra tells of; the joys and and sadnessess within the family as she grew up; and her love that still is present to this day, for the continent of Africa wherever she might be.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2003
This is an outstanding book. I have never encountered anyone who so accurately articulates what it was like to grow up in Zimbabwe; it's like reminiscing with a good friend. Some may find the references she makes to everyday life incomprehensible and the racism unpalatable, however, you cannot help but be moved by the honesty of her writing and the love she feels for her family and the country that lies between the Limpopo and the Zambezi. This is a must read for anyone who grew up in Zimbabwe, has visited the country or can find it on a map.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2003
Alexandara Fuller's memoir of her childhood in Africa is, first and foremost, an incredibly honest and loyal portrait of childhood in general....some of the feelings of young Bobo ring so true it almost hurts....Intelligently, she shies away from sensationalism and cheap emotions (for which there would be ample scope), in favour of a humane and empathic prose that never judges.
It is also a fascinating story of 'White Africa' and of the mixed motives that have led Europeans to hang on to it for so long. Once again, she refuses political judgement on her characters' motives, on their latent racism and debatable ethics. She prefers to tell us about her own coming of age and her coming to terms with the complex and contradictory reality that is "Africa" for a white girl. She's no naive: some of her characters are frankly disgusting. She just has other things to tell, that's all, and that's fine, because she's 100% honest about it.
Ultimately, the book is a declaration of love for Africa and for her family: love born out of much suffering and therefore, i think, so much more honest and longlasting.
If you are looking for a political novel, then you better stick to Nadine Gordimer: this is essentially a private story, and you will identify with it no matter where you've grown up, as long as you HAVE grown up.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2002
To anyone who has ever lived in Africa, this book will evoke sensations and feelings long since forgotten. To anyone who has never set foot on that continent, it will make him or her believe they have known it all their life.
The vivid imagery makes you feel you can jump into the pages and become part of the story. You see, hear, smell and taste Africa and when you get to the end you have to go back to the beginning, just so you can experience it all again.
The Rhodesian/Zimbabwe War of Independence somehow seems more stark and chilling when seen through the perspective of a child, as does living under the dictatorship of Life President Dr. Hastings Banda in Malawi.
It is a story that stays with the reader for a long time after it is finished. It is also funny and sad and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2003
A most enjoyable read, and I think all the more enjoyable as these experiences are something that all of us who've grown up in Southern Africa can share. A book that all 'Africans' should have on their shelves at home, something to pass on to those generations that will sadly never experience many of the things that occurred in the book.
The book deals with the beauty of Africa very well and doesn't shy away from the harsh realities that were part and parcel of everyday life, things that we all came to accept as normal but were in fact far from it as I've come to realise living away from Africa.
It was also a reminder, not that we need one, that once that continent is in your blood, whatever the trials and tribulations that go one there, it's there to stay.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2003
The story was told with such honesty and openess, you cry and laugh in the same breath. Fuller's descriptions of African life in such hard times is so real it makes you wish you had been there despite the terrifying nature of life. The relationships between family members and the African workers were explained with great sincerity. My only sadness is that she has not written more!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2002
...but don't let the feeling that you've heard it all before make you decide not to read this excellent book! Fuller is a superb writer and, if it's true that we've all got a book in us, then this is obviously the one that she was born to write. Her sensory descriptions of Africa are spot on and her mother emerges as one of literature's magnificent monsters. Even if you're not remotely interested in Africa, this is a riveting story of emotional (and physical) survival. I don't usually splash out on hardbacks, but this one was worth every penny.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2002
This look back at the life of the white farming community in Zimbabwe is a powerful recollection of a childhood that has left an indelible mark on the life of the authoress.
The story, as seen through the eyes of a young girl, describes the tough existence of a white farming family living through the Rhodesian civil war as white rule draws to an inevitable close. The family fights against drought, war and financial instability but, as the book starkly portrays, still live in a style inconceivable for the non-white community. The fact that racism was officially sanctioned and existed within the majority of white households is not concealed but given the perspective of the growing child.
Sadly, the family is cursed with the loss of three children out of five at young ages and the mother of the author finds solace through alcohol to relieve her mental anguish that such cruel misfortune has been wished on her.
On a brighter note, the wildness, smells and colours of the African landscape are brought vividly to life throughout the book making the reader yearn for an opportunity to share such experiences and to bring into context the priveleged childhood described.
The book is written in a style that makes you wish to finish it quickly and deserves to be re-read. It will serve as a worthy testemant to a period of time that was a true historical cross roads.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2003
A native of South Africa, I have travelled through surrounding areas like the French Congo, Botswana and Zambia. I currently reside in the US and the novel, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, stirred many memories of home. Fuller portrays the Africa of the time period beautifully. Her word choice is impeccable. I recall my mother reprimanding me for some uncouth comment by saying "sis man!" As Fuller's characters say that and other familiar phrase, a native African can only smile. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is a captivating read and I highly recommend it, especially to an African craving a little reminder of home.