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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Dog Eat Dog

Niq Mhlongo

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To purchase Dog Eat Dog

Title: Dog Eat Dog
Author: Niq Mhlongo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 222 pages
Availability: Dog Eat Dog - US
Dog Eat Dog - UK
Dog Eat Dog - Canada
Dog Eat Dog - India

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Our Assessment:

B : lively style and scenes, but doesn't really go anywhere

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 10/1/2008 Jastinder Khera

  From the Reviews:
  • "Unfortunately for the reader, Mhlongo fails to make Dingz an involving enough character for us to care about his tribulations, even when they do provide the odd insightful vignette of life in the townships or the beginnings of South Africa’s Aids crisis. Similarly, Mhlongo’s efforts to give other characters space are few and far between, and are hamstrung by leaden dialogue (.....) Dog Eat Dog suffers most of all from a sense of aimlessness, with no narrative or tension of sufficient strength to hold the reader’s interest." - Jastinder Khera, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Dog Eat Dog is narrated by Dingamanzi Makhedama Njomane -- known as Dingz --, a young student at the University of Witwatersrand in 1994, as South Africa is making its post-Apartheid transition. The historic election of that year is one of the big events in the novel -- "It was the moment that most of us had been waiting for years to experience" --, but Dingz has a lot else to deal with, too.
       Late in the novel he feels: "My grip was surely slipping. I thought I had already lost my hold", but his hold isn't very firm throughout the novel. Indeed, his is a tale of one small crisis after another -- though given his devil-may-care attitude and sense of youthful (and, to some extent, black) entitlement he doesn't let too much really get to him. It begins with his bursary (financial aid) application being denied and continues with such things as his being kicked out of the YMCA where he rooms (for taking a girl up to his room), getting an STD, a ridiculously complicated effort to secure an aegrotat (an excuse for not taking a final exam), and his failing most of his classes.
       But for Dingz it doesn't seem much more than just part of a big adventure: he drinks and carouses and fools around, and misappropriates money from his family, and manages to have a pretty good time most of the time. He's like any frat boy, enjoying youthful liberties without worrying too much about the consequences -- except, of course, that he lives in Johannesburg and Soweto, and that certain basics, from crime to opportunities, are different than in America or Europe.
       Dingz does complain, occasionally -- "Why is this happening to me ? I asked myself" -- but Mhlongo doesn't blame society: Dingz is responsible for most of his own messes. Dingz doesn't take his studies particularly seriously, for one thing -- carousing late into and through the night when he can, and constantly drinking. He also doesn't help himself with his quick temper -- though occasionally his cutting ahead of the queue and bribing the proper person does bring results. And he does understand at least the local criminal hierarchy, paying off those who can and would do him harm. Dingz's is still a world where excuses seem easier than taking responsibility -- (not) using a condom in the heat of the moment, getting a death certificate to be excused from taking an exam.
       Dingz's free-wheeling, often irresponsible attitude -- and his ability to somehow get by, regardless of the mess he gets himself into -- are also a reflection of how unsettled and uncertain South African conditions were in the transition to a post-Apartheid world. Overt racism barely figures in the novel, but there are some clashes of cultures (including with other black students from other African countries taking advantage of the higher South African educational standards -- and taking places away from local students). Most of all, however, Dingz, like many youths, is trying to get a handle on how this (adult) world works -- and since it is a world in transition the rules and expectations are even less certain than usual.
       Mhlongo writes in a lively style, sprinkling the text with dialect and foreign terms (including that bubo on Dingz's nkauza ...). Dingz isn't always a sympathetic character, but his carefree attitude makes his story a fairly entertaining one. Or rather: his stories, since there isn't much of an arc to his account, which meanders as simply and indifferently along as Dingz seems to move through life, occasionally focussed on something but then just as quickly on to the next thing.
       Dog Eat Dog makes for an interesting, lively account of South African student life in the mid-1990s, but ultimately there's not quite enough to it; this is more 'scenes from a life' than an actual life, and could have used at least a bit more of a thread running through it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 April 2010

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Dog Eat Dog: Reviews: Other books by Niq Mhlongo under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       South African author Niq (Nicholas) Mhlongo was born in 1973.

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© 2010-2012 the complete review

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