A few weeks back I wrote a post about a reading challenge I was planning on trying out. If you haven’t read it, you can do it here.
Thanks to the book I read, I killed five birds with one stone. Out of the fifty challenges given, with the help of this book titled Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, I can happily strike out the following challenges.
- A book by a female author
- A book set in a different country
- A book based on a true story
- A memoir
- A book by an author you’ve never read before
I wish I could read one book for each challenge. Unfortunately, I have Literature as my Masters and so have too many books to focus on. This makes it quite difficult for me to find time to spend on reading for leisure.
Anyhoo, lets come back to Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, an amazing novel that really struck a chord with me. To begin with, the cover itself sends a very strong message. The feet of a young girl in red shoes is featured on the cover. There is a bandage on her knee and she’s standing on dried leaves and dusty sandy ground. A gun hangs from, what can be guessed as, her shoulder. What can be gathered from the cover is that there is a young girl all too familiar with violence and weaponry.
The novel is from the perspective of Bobo a.k.a Alexandra Fuller, the author. Throughout the course of the novel, she is addressed by everyone as Bobo. The rare times she is called by her real name is when she is in boarding school. Alexandra herself doesn’t feel a sense of familiarity with the name since she developed a habit of responding to Bobo and being called that by almost everyone. The novel maps Bobo and her family’s life as they move from one land to another, trying to retain power and superiority of race in a land that doesn’t belong to them. Zimbabwe, originally called Rhodesia, is where the novel’s storyline resides.
Tracing the life of Bobo as a White African child and how she copes with the strict division her parents enforced, especially her mother, in regards to racism and her sense of belonging, believing Africa to be her home is the recurring theme of the novel. One thing that was extremely interesting for me was how Bobo associated with Africa not with the Africans. She was in love with everything the land offered, the weather, the barren land, the poisonous creatures, everything, but not the people who inhabited this land. The few Africans mentioned in the novel have no description or storyline of their own. They are notable in their absence.
The relationship between the family members is quite interesting. Bobo and her elder sister Van share a dysfunctional relationship of sorts. Bobo can be seen as someone who admires and looks up to her sister. Van, on the other hand has a very cynical and realistic take on life that almost borders on the pessimistic. It is Van who wishes to run away, leave the place and start afresh in a new country but it is, ironically, her who stays back and Bobo who settles down elsewhere at the end. The parents can’t be considered to be the best parents. They neglect their children too much which leads to the children growing up with harsh views of life in general. The father isn’t the most compassionate man around. The rare times he is shown to express any kind of emotion besides anger is when his wife suffers from horrible losses or when his daughters get married. The mother, having lost three children from unexpected deaths, loses her mind and finds sanctuary in alcohol. She has an immense love for domestic animals which could be seen as a displaced sense of motherhood. Having lost three children, she sees the animals as surrogate children, finding it easier to shower empathy and affection on these animals than on her two daughters maybe out of fear of getting too close and losing them as well.
I empathise most with the mother. The pain is palpable every time she loses a child and it is evident when and how she starts to lose her sanity and becomes a victim of a mental breakdown. Constant inebriation numbs her enough to not think or mull over the pain of losing her children. With every death, she falls deeper into the pit of depression. These losses create a massive miscommunication in the family. For example, when Bobo feels guilty and blames herself for the death of her younger sister, none of the family members step forward or try to alleviate her guilt. Bobo talks of how she believes her parents know she is responsible for her younger sister’s death and yet no one helps her out. This is not because the parents and sister don’t want to or can’t help her but because they are honestly extremely unaware of the guilt Bobo feels. Despite this, there is a sense of kinship that is quite evident in the family. This maybe because of the extreme violence they endure on a daily basis and the fact that war was a reality and daily routine for them.What gives me goosebumps is how comfortable or okay the two girls are when it comes to violence. The mother almost shoots down the house in an attempt to kill a venomous snake that had entered the house, yet neither blink an eye or are shaken up about it.
The two sisters grow up with very different personalities despite going through horrible ordeals together. When the two sisters are sexually molested by a friend of the family, Van doesn’t even try talking to her parents about it knowing full well her parents will not believe it. Bobo on the other hand constantly tries to make them believe until she is told to shut up and not make up stories. This in itself shows how the two sisters were and what they expected from their families and life.
The book ends with both the sisters married, Van with two children and a second husband and Bobo relocating to America with her husband. There is a sense of ambiguity at the end of the novel. It also leaves the reader wondering about what happens to Bobo, the White African adult having seen her live the life of a White African child.
I would definitely recommend to any interested. It makes for quite a read and doesn’t disappoint.
Leaving you readers with my favourite quote from the novel.
This is not a full circle. It’s Life carrying on. It’s the next breath we all take. It’s the choice we make to get on with it.