Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dogs and Cats

When we moved out of our house in Columbia, we purged a majority of our belongings, including most of our books. Now, I’m someone who always has quite a number of books on my shelf that I have not yet read. Two of these books, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat, both by Alexandra Fuller, were given to me in the last few years by Katie’s dad and stepmom, and Katie had read both, but I had not (though not because I didn't want to). When Katie saw them in the “give away pile” she told me I should pull them out and read them if I could, because I’d like them.

Indeed, they are really good, and despite all of our training and preparations, I managed to get through both of them. Both were bestsellers and have been out for years, so I’m certainly not the first person to have read them, and I would recommend them if you like non-fiction and autobiographies. Alexandra Fuller was raised in Rhodesia and was a child when the ruling (all White) Rhodesian government fell to Black freedom fighters (led by then-hero-now-dictator Robert Mugabe) and became Zimbabwe. During her youth, Fuller lived in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia.

Her narratives mix in a good amount of history but are told in first-person, so the books are both educational and personally engaging. One of the more interesting aspects of her stories is the inescapable “whiteness” of her family in a world full of "color". There comes a point in Dogs where the family has been through so much loss and heartache that I found myself asking “Why don’t they just leave Africa?” But the answer is clear: regardless of their English roots, they’re African, and Africa is their home. In fact, at some point, they do leave, and within a few years they return "Home" to southern Africa. The author, in her adult years, lives in the US and always talks about feeling Africa fill her lungs when she steps off a plane to return to see her parents In Zambia; it is at that moment that she truly feels “home.”

She spends a good amount of time contemplating this aspect of her life as well as atoning for her “sins,” the sins of the White Rhodesian culture that brutally subjugated the majority Black population. She is not racist, but her family was, and Dogs discussed this with brutal honesty. In Cat, she befriends a former Rhodesian soldier and travels back with him to the regions where he fought, so she delves deeply into the Rhodesian war and all of its horrors (committed by both sides).

Fuller’s strength is her ability to humanize people that would at first glance seem like “bad” people. In her youth, her parents are unrepentantly racist. The soldier in Cat (known only as “K”) could be tried as a war criminal for the things he has done in his youth and has been psychologically damaged by what he has seen and done. Yet, these are real people, with real lives and dreams and feelings. "K" is plagued by the guilt of what he has done and has become a ardent Christian in seeking forgiveness. For all the negative things Fuller writes about her parents, especially her mother, she loves them. They are quite amazing people; their resiliency in the face of the obstacles and adversity they face is amazing. They do some bad things, but they do a lot of good things, too. They aren’t “bad” people, just damaged souls trying to make it through life.

So read these books. Both are worth your time. She has a few more books that I have not yet read, the newest being a full biography of her mother. I’m sure that would be a fascinating read.

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