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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, 2001, * * * *

With the recent publication of Alexandra Fuller's new book Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness I realized that I had never read her 2001 debut memoir Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight. In this book she recalls in vivid, often excruciating detail, coming of age in Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) as a long civil war raged in neighboring Mozambique and her own country slid down the violent path toward an independent African Nationalist regime.  Alexandra Fuller arrived with her parents and elder sister Vanessa in Rhodesia in 1972, seven years after Ian Smith had made his disastrous unilateral declaration of independence in opposition of black majority rule. Her parents are British expatriates who had lived previously in both Kenya and Rhodesia and they move to a struggling farm in the remote Burma Valley on the eastern border with Mozambique, where Robert Mugabe's Shona Zanu guerrillas are launching cross-border raids at the start of the bush war, killing farmers on their isolated settlements.  By the age of five "Bobo" (Alexandra) and her sister Vanessa are taught to strip, clean and load the semi-automatic rifles their parents sleep with at night.  They are also taught opera and Shakespeare and while there never seems to be enough to eat, there are African servants, stables, boarding schools and country clubs.   When independence finally arrives in 1980 and Mugabe pursues reconciliation with the remaining whites, the Fullers decide to stay in Zimbabwe to manage another ruined farm, but their lives are a chain of calamities and woes; three of their five children die, the weather is relentless and debilitating, and Fuller monitors her mother's decline into alcoholism and mental breakdowns. She writes with wit and a tough, self-revealing honesty of the loneliness, boredom and poverty of their life -- and of the long nights after the generators have been swtiched off and the continued fear from land mines, wild animals, and civil wars. Like many first-time writers, she invents her own idiom, and experiments with alliteration, compound adjectives and short verbless sentences.  Yet once she relaxes into her style, the exuberance and readability of her narrative compels the suspension of critical judgment.  The Boston Globe commented in their review: "the extremely personal and unguarded understatement of this memoir is far more powerful than any sociopolitical analysis or apoligist interpretation could hope to be."  I cannot improve on that.

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