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Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

by Alexandra Fuller

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Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
I find memoir to be a powerful genre. It is one thing for characters in a novel to behave in a certain manner, be it with humility, hubris, or heroism. It is another thing entirely to read such an account in a memoir. If I believe the author to be trustworthy in his or her account, then what I am reading actually happened to the characters therein. Every heroic act, every human frailty, every instance of strength in the face of hardship is true. I am immersed in the events of another's life, and this immersion has great potential to affect my outlook and even alter my life.

In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller delivers her memory of an African childhood fraught with hardship, loss, and danger. She became accustomed to armed guerrillas and landmine-littered roads; hunger, drought, and malaria were never far off; and her family was both guilty of and victim to the racism that consumed colonial Africa in the late 20th century.

Alexandra Fuller's is just the sort of childhood I wish I could claim, but probably wouldn't have survived. The Fullers would have taken one look at their Twinkie of a son and left me behind in one of their multiple moves across the continent.

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."

"Oh."

"By mistake."


The memoir opens with a picture of Fuller as a little girl putting rounds into the magazine of an automatic weapon. In the photo, the gun is tipped against the wall behind her, and the caption reads, "Bobo loading the FN." She is seven years old.

Being born in Derbyshire, England was a fluke for Fuller, whose parents spent their lives in the war-torn African colonies of the latter half of the 20th century. Fuller was, in fact, conceived at Victoria Falls, "The plunging roar of the Zambezi in my ears at conception," and was not yet a toddler before the Fuller family returned from England to Africa, their real home.

The Fuller's had already lost a child when Alexandra was born. Adrian, born between Alexandra (Bobo) and her older sister Vanessa, died of meningitis before he could speak. He wouldn't be the last child lost.

Bobo's tale begins in colonial Rhodesia, during the country's 13-year civil war. Their home in the Burma River Valley bordered tumultuous and guerrilla-friendly Mozambique to the East. The area was littered with minefields and dense with guerrilla terrorists, so much so that a drive into town for groceries required a mine-detecting vehicle and a truck full of Rhodesian soldiers, behind which the family would follow in a mine-proofed Land Rover.

Fuller details her home-life with description and quotations that evidence love for her family and the land in which she was raised. And while devoted to her parents, she is unrelentingly honest in these accounts. She portrays her father as the stalwart soldier and provider, hard-working and absent most of the time. Her mother is often drunk, her eyes "half-mast," and crooning badly to Roger Whitaker albums.

Amidst the harsh and brutal circumstances of her childhood, Fuller never fails to find and convey the day-to-day humor. One of the funniest chapters relates the visit of two white missionaries to the Fuller farm:

A vision: two men climbing out of a white station wagon. They are wearing button-down white shirts tucked neatly into pulled-up-high creased shorts, plus pulled-up socks and proper lace-up shoes. They have dark glasses but they are not wearing hats. I don't know many men who wear dark glasses. The men I know squint into the sun. If they have sunglasses, they use them to chew on while they stare into the distance, into the hope-of-rain, or the threat-of-terrorists, or the possibility-of-a-kudu.

Mum shades her eyes from the sun and walks slowly, suspiciously, toward the car. I stay behind her. Mum's finger plays lightly over the top of the safety catch on her gun. "Yes? Can I help you?" We can't trust anyone anymore. Not even white men.

It is only then we see that both men are armed with thick shiny black Bibles.

Mum shuffles her gun behind her back. "Oh shit, Jesus creepers," she mutters, and then, more loudly, "Hello."

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