Book 33 Completed
Wow. The world is full of sorrow, pain, and heartache. Every continent, every group of people. But I’m starting to feel as though Africa’s rivers are really just a collection of tears running across the land. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is a powerful memoir of loss.
Let me start by saying, I disagree with the criticism of this book. Fuller in her Author’s Note says, “I am African by accident, not by birth. So, while my soul, heart, and the bent of my mind are African, my skin blaringly begs to differ and is resolutely white. And while I insist on my Africanness…I am forced to acknowledge that almost half of my life in Africa was realized in a bubble of Anglocentricity, as if black Africans had no culture worth noticing and…they did not exist except as servants and terrorists.” This is meant to be a childhood memoir — not a political memoir, not a reflective memoir. Fuller wanted to paint a picture of her parents and the Africa she knew growing up. She succeeded in telling a captivating story — depressing, shrouded in tragedy, and poignant.
People who are frustrated at the colonialist attitude are, I think, missing the point. Of course her parents have a colonialist attitude — they are racist colonialists. And that is a demographic of Africa that exists; that’s a point of view that’s fascinating to read. Her parent’s viewpoint doesn’t make this a bad book.
There is a compelling scene where her mother drunkenly tells a visitor that Africa deserves at least one country for the whites — she is genuinely angry that one-hundred white people died (to the 13,000 Kenyans) fighting for Kenya’s independence. She sheds no tears for the thousands, only expresses rage at the hundred who died for black independence. Of course, that scene is jaw-dropping and shocking. “She said what? She thinks what?” And Fuller captures these moments in clear, rich detail, without comment or explanation. I liked that a lot. What did other readers want from her? An apology? She was a child. She was a witness.
At the heart of this book is the story of Fuller’s mother: A mentally unstable alcoholic who has a love/hate relationship with Africa. In my opinion, Fuller’s mom earned her right to slowly descend into madness, pills, and whisky. If losing a child is life’s greatest tragedy (and I’m inclined to think that there is nothing worse than outliving a child), then losing three children is an unfathomable atrocity. Five children. Three dead and buried in African soil. One died of meningitis – a bright eyed toddler. Her three year-old drowned in a pond while she was being watched by the author (my own heart is burdened with guilt FOR her). And then her baby son had only a few short days on this earth; born with complications that the government-run hospital could not afford to help.
At dinner last night, I tearfully asked Matt how we could survive something like that. The honesty is: You don’t. Not entirely. I wouldn’t. I know that.
But aside from that…this book hooked me. (Um, obviously, I finished it in a day.) There are different stories to every country, different perspectives; and the beauty of this wide world of literature is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to one voice, one story. The story of the child-soldiers, the story of the politicians, the story of the slaves, and the story of the colonialists — all of them have a place in our hearts, minds, and bookshelves. The thread that runs through these particular stories, no matter what side you’re on, is that they are all unavoidably sad.