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Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 7.1 (2005) 187-188

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Lin Calof

The creative nonfiction I like uses personal narrative not only to ask "Who am I?" but also "How do I define myself within my unique cultural context?" Here are two favorites that address that wonderfully: a memoir about Africa and a meditation on the legacy of the Holocaust. Both challenged me to define my world in larger terms.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller. Random House, 2001. 301 pages, paper, $12.95.

"My soul has no home. I am neither African nor English nor am I of the sea," Alexandra Fuller writes, and thus we embark with her on a journey of discovery through the harsh physical, political, and familial landscapes of her African childhood.

In 1971, when she is two, Fuller and her family move from England to Rhodesia. Her identity is infused with the disparate sounds of her native nanny's Shone lullabies, her father's boozy rendition of Bizet's Carmen, and her mother's prenatal recitations of Shakespeare, all against the backdrop of the gunfire of the Zimbabwean soldiers, and the woo-oop! of hyenas stalking a lion pride. She imbues her text with vivid sensory details: the "sweet, raw-onion, wood-smoke, acrid smell . . . the high-wheeling vultures and the ground hopping pied crows, the stinging-dry song of grasshoppers."

The Fullers are a tough bunch, fighting for their farm in the midst of the new government's program to redistribute the land. None proves tougher than Alexandra, who by the age of six can clean and load her dad's FN rifle and her mom's Uzi, and has been taught to "shoot to kill," by propping the butt of her rifle against a wall to avoid being knocked over by its kick, and by shooting at a cardboard cutout "terrorist" in the backyard. [End Page 187]

In Rhodesia, identity and survival are synonymous with the land, and this proves true for Fuller personally as well. "We are born and then the umbilical cord of each child is sewn straight from the mother into the ground, where it takes root and grows," Fuller writes. Despite her hard-working life, and her hard-drinking, Uzi-wielding parents; political unrest; disease; and drought, Fuller discovers that Africa is truly the home of her heart.

Writing with the restraint of a mature author, 30-something Fuller tells her story devoid of the manipulation you'll find in some family memoir. In the evolution of this increasingly popular genre, Fuller has set the bar a notch higher.

Lin Calof, a writer living in Burnsville, Minnesota, is studying creative nonfiction at the University of Minnesota. She is currently working on a book-length memoir entitled Crazy for You. She can be contacted at



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