Catalogue


Don't let's go to the dogs tonight : an African childhood /
Alexandra Fuller.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Random House, 2002.
description
301 p. : ill., 1 map.
ISBN
0375507507
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Random House, 2002.
isbn
0375507507
catalogue key
4643112
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Book Sense Book of the Year, USA, 2003 : Won
Guardian First Book Award, GBR, 2002 : Nominated
First Chapter
Rhodesia, 1975

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.”

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

So if I wake in the night and need Mum and Dad, I call Vanessa, because she isn’t armed. “Van! Van, hey!” I hiss across the room until she wakes up. And then Van has to light a candle and escort me to the loo, where I pee sleepily into the flickering yellow light and Van keeps the candle high, looking for snakes and scorpions and baboon spiders.

Mum won’t kill snakes because she says they help to keep the rats down (but she rescued a nest of baby mice from the barns and left them to grow in my cupboard, where they ate holes in the family’s winter jerseys). Mum won’t kill scorpions either; she catches them and lets them go free in the pool and Vanessa and I have to rake the pool before we can swim. We fling the scorps as far as we can across the brown and withering lawn, chase the ducks and geese out, and then lower ourselves gingerly into the pool, whose sides wave green and long and soft and grasping with algae. And Mum won’t kill spiders because she says it will bring bad luck.

I tell her, “I’d say we have pretty rotten luck as it is.”

“Then think how much worse it would be if we killed spiders.”

I have my feet off the floor when I pee.

“Hurry up, man.”

“Okay, okay.”

“It’s like Victoria Falls.”

“I really had to go.”

I have been holding my pee for a long, long time and staring out the window to try and guess how close it is to morning. Maybe I could hold it until morning. But then I notice that it is the deep-black-sky quiet time of night, which is the halfway time between the sun setting and the sun rising when even the night animals are quiet—as if they, like day animals, take a break in the middle of their work to rest. I can’t hear Vanessa breathing; she has gone into her deep middle-of-the-night silence. Dad is not snoring nor is he shouting in his sleep. The baby is still in her crib but the smell of her is warm and animal with wet nappy. It will be a long time until morning.

Then Vanessa hands me the candle—“You keep boogies for me now”—and she pees.

“See, you had to go, too.”

“Only ’cos you had to.”

There is a hot breeze blowing through the window, the cold sinking night air shifting the heat of the day up. The breeze has trapped midday scents; the prevalent cloying of the leach field, the green soap which has spilled out from the laundry and landed on the patted-down red earth, the wood smoke from the fires that heat our water, the boiled-meat smell of dog food.

We debate the merits of flushing the loo.

“We shouldn’t waste the water.” Even when there isn’t a drought we can’t waste water, just in case one day there is a drought. Anyway, Dad has said, “Steady on with the loo paper, you kids. And don’t flush the bloody loo all the time. The leach field can’t handle it.”

“But that’s two pees in there.”

“So? It’s only pee.”

“Agh sis, man, but it’ll be smelly by tomorrow. And you peed as much as a horse.”

“It’s not my fault.”

“You can flush.”

“You’re taller.”

“I’ll hold the candle.”

Van holds the candle high. I lower the toilet lid, stand on it and lift up the block of hardwood that covers the cistern, and reach down for the chain. Mum has glued a girlie-magazine picture to this block of hardwood: a blond woman in few clothes, with breasts like naked cow udders, and she’s all arched in a strange pouty contortion, like she’s got backache. Which maybe she has, from the weight of the udders. The picture is from Scope magazine.

We aren’t allowed to look at Scope magazine.

“Why?”

“Because we aren’t those sorts of people,” says Mum.

“But we have a picture from Scope magazine on the loo lid.”

“That’s a joke.”

“Oh.” And then, “What sort of joke?”

“Stop twittering on.”

A pause. “What sort of people are we, then?”

“We have breeding,” says Mum firmly.

“Oh.” Like the dairy cows and our special expensive bulls (who are named Humani, Jack, and Bulawayo).

“Which is better than having money,” she adds.

I look at her sideways, considering for a moment. “I’d rather have money than breeding,” I say.

Mum says, “Anyone can have money.” As if it’s something you might pick up from the public toilets in OK Bazaar Grocery Store in Umtali.

“Ja, but we don’t.”

Mum sighs. “I’m trying to read, Bobo.”

“Can you read to me?”

Mum sighs again. “All right,” she says, “just one chapter.” But it is teatime before we look up from The Prince and the Pauper.

The loo gurgles and splutters, and then a torrent of water shakes down, spilling slightly over the bowl.

“Sis, man,” says Vanessa.

You never know what you’re going to get with this loo. Sometimes it refuses to flush at all and other times it’s like this, water on your feet.

I follow Vanessa back to the bedroom. The way candlelight falls, we’re walking into blackness, blinded by the flame of the candle, unable to see our feet. So at the same moment we get the creeps, the neck-prickling terrorist-under-the-bed creeps, and we abandon ourselves to fear. The candle blows out. We skid into our room and leap for the beds, our feet quickly tucked under us. We’re both panting, feeling foolish, trying to calm our breathing as if we weren’t scared at all.

Vanessa says, “There’s a terrorist under your bed, I can see him.”

“No you can’t, how can you see him? The candle’s out.”

“Struze fact.”

And I start to cry.

“Jeez, I’m only joking.”

I cry harder.

“Shhh, man. You’ll wake up Olivia. You’ll wake up Mum and Dad.”

Which is what I’m trying to do, without being shot. I want everyone awake and noisy to chase away the terrorist-under-my-bed.

“Here,” she says, “you can sleep with Fred if you stop crying.”

So I stop crying and Vanessa pads over the bare cement floor and brings me the cat, fast asleep in a snail-circle on her arms. She puts him on the pillow and I put an arm over the vibrating, purring body. Fred finds my earlobe and starts to suck. He’s always sucked our earlobes. Our hair is sucked into thin, slimy, knotted ropes near the ears.

Mum says, “No wonder you have worms all the time.”

Excerpted from Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2010-10-01:
Fuller grew up in southern Africa in the 1970s at a time of political upheaval. Her family's eccentric lifestyle, coupled with her mother's outrageous, alcohol-fueled behavior, is told from a child's wide-eyed point of view with humor and insight. South African-born narrator Lisette Lecat seamlessly creates a full cast of characters, capturing every ounce of drama and poetry in Fuller's evocative writing. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-10-22:
A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving and even delightful journey through a white African girl's childhood. 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. Curfews and war, mosquitoes, land mines, ambushes and "an abundance of leopards" are the stuff of this childhood. "Dad has to go out into the bush... and find terrorists and fight them"; Mum saves the family from an Egyptian spitting cobra; they both fight "to keep one country in Africa white-run." The "A" schools ("with the best teachers and facilities") are for white children; "B" schools serve "children who are neither black nor white"; and "C" schools are for black children. Fuller's world is marked by sudden, drastic changes: the farm is taken away for "land redistribution"; one term at school, five white students are "left in the boarding house... among two hundred African students"; three of her four siblings die in infancy; the family constantly sets up house in hostile, desolate environments as they move from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. But Fuller's remarkable affection for her parents (who are racists) and her homeland (brutal under white and black rule) shines through. This affection, in spite of its subjects' prominent flaws, reveals their humanity and allows the reader direct entry into her world. Fuller's book has the promise of being widely read and remaining of interest for years to come. Photos not seen by PW. (On-sale Dec. 18) Forecast: Like Anne Frank's diary, this work captures the tone of a very young person caught up in her own small world as she witnesses a far larger historical event. It will appeal to those looking for a good story as well as anyone seeking firsthand reportage of white southern Africa. The quirky title and jacket will propel curious shoppers to pick it up. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, September 2001
Kirkus Reviews, October 2001
Publishers Weekly, October 2001
Booklist, November 2001
New York Times Book Review, December 2001
San Francisco Chronicle, December 2001
USA Today, December 2001
Globe & Mail, January 2002
Los Angeles Times, January 2002
New York Times Book Review, January 2002
Boston Globe, February 2002
Washington Post, February 2002
Washington Post, April 2002
School Library Journal, July 2002
Library Journal, November 2002
New York Times Book Review, March 2003
Chicago Tribune, June 2007
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem