Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller, Random House 2002
I bought this book because of its review in The Economist (their review has a spoiler of the most heart-wrenching moment). Patricia read it first, and liked it -- further supporting the theory of Africa as something women write well about (Gallmann, Markham, Dinesen), and enjoy reading. It is a fantastic story. Two things stand out for me. One is how passive it is, has to be, because the narrator was a child. The other is the puzzle of her parents -- what made them such determined expatriates, when they suffered so much (her mum goes progressively bonkers). Alexandra was born in England, after all. The story made me feel so affectionate toward the family, that I chased them up on the internet to see what happened next. An interviewer asked the same question about her parents, and Alexandra said that if she hadn't made the reader understand why they stayed, then she had failed, which made me feel guilty. Still, Alexandra herself lives in Wyoming now. One could criticise the story for being about the Fullers, and not much about the natives (there is one incidental bit about Hunger, by which time she is an adolescent), but hey, that's another book.
Suddenly the snake rears back and snaps forward, and sets out into the air a thin mist of poisonous spray and the dogs come reeling back out of the pantry, yelping and blind, staggering from the pain. Mum lifts the gun to her shoulder. She squeezes her eyes shut and eases back on the trigger. There's an explosion of glasses and bottles and tins and a wild chattering of bullets. Mum has the Uzi on automatic. She empties an entire magazine towards the snake and then there is dust, the splintering of still-falling glass, the whimpering dogs. Violet, July and I cautiously creep up behind Mum. The snake is splattered in a red mosaic on the back wall of the pantry along with sprayed beer, and the lumpy contents of tinned beef, tomato sauce, peas. Flour has exploded and has settled peacefully onto the chaos in a fine lacy shroud.
"Madam, " says July admiringly, "but you got him one time!"
Dad shakes my shoulder. "Come on, Chookies." I startle awake, in the quick, gasping, suddenly alert way of all people who have lived in a war (and for which there is no cure, ever, not even now).