on September 14, 2011
I loved, loved, loved "Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight" so I ran out and paid full-price for "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" as soon as I'd heard it was out. As I tore through through the first 100 pages, I wondered when Fuller would get to something new. She tells the same stories of her childhood, from slightly different perspectives and with a few details added or omitted. Yes, we get the voice of her mother in this volume but it didn't really tell the reader anything new or particularly insightful about Nicola Fuller, who dominates and colors the pages of "Don't Lets..." The added family histories of her parents was the most interesting thing in this book (and actually, those parts were in the first 100 pages). Reading the same book ("Don't Lets...") over again but for the first time was delightful to me. But, all in all, I was disappointed. She wrote this book before and I read this book before. It seems like Fuller wanted to re-live the writing and publishing and success of "Don't Let's..." I'd rather just read and re-read "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight."
on September 24, 2011
"There we go then," Mum said, "I'll just get my Uzi and we'll be off...."
"Bullets, lipstick, sunglasses. Off we go...." (p. 28-29).
Alexandra Fuller's family makes you feel much better about your own.
Having lived in the insanity of Kamuzu Banda's Malawi, having watched in horror as Mugabe righted one wrong with another, I rejoice that Ms. Fuller has written another installment in her family's saga. No, it was not right for the Brits to take over Africa and take away from those who were already there. Ms Fuller's story, however, puts a human face on "white Africa"-- not a world not of fanatical white supremasits (of which there were many, many, many) but of hard-working whites who ignored the rights/wrongs and tried to build a life on a continent whose indigenous people are seemingly forever compelled to fight and lose to hold their own land. No one who has not lived there can accurately judge this book. The social mores, the threats to life, the weaknesses of any political system imposed to try to bring someone's definition of "order" have to be lived first-hand to be believed and understood.
on October 5, 2011
Ms. Fuller has written an intriguing story of her parents' lives in [mostly] eastern Africa, their struggles during and after British control and what the white farming experience was [and I guess is] like in that vast continent. She does an excellent job describing the beauty and horrors of living daily life there; particularly touching is the Fullers' deep love for Africa which is quite palpable throughout the book - they just can't imagine living anywhere else and always come back. I'd really like to know these people! No obstacle deters them from scratching out a living on various farms they either own or manage. And it's clear how much Ms. Fuller loves and admires them for their perseverance.
Some of the descriptions of the surroundings and landscapes are so lovely - particularly as evening falls - that I felt as though I were sitting right there with Ms. Fuller and her mother as they reminisce together. Two minor negatives are 1) the book starts off a little jumbled and would have been better had it proceeded chronologically as it does as it gets going, and 2) more pictures and maps of the regions the Fullers lived and traveled in would have been helpful.
on January 29, 2012
This book is a relatively fast read, and it's the sequel to "Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight". It makes the most sense to read the books in this order. This book answers many of the questions the first book left me with, including the history behind the wars in Kenya and Zambia and why the author's parents remained in Africa in spite of mounting tragedies and hardships. The author knows her parents well and has lived with them long enough to understand the bewitching effect the land has on them. Nicola Fuller explains her reason for choosing the less-ordinary life by saying, "What-ifs are the worse kind of post-mortem. And I hate post-mortems. Much better to face the truth, pull up your socks and get on with whatever comes next." As a reader who has not lived through any of this, I still struggle to understand their dogged determination to stay in Central Africa through civil wars, imminent danger, thievery, loss of property, the deaths of 3 children, and sketchy medical care. It amazes me to no end that they stayed there, because it just about killed them.
The author does a great job of capturing her mother's storytelling dialogue and flair for drama throughout the book. I loved the concept of the Tree of Forgetfulness as a place where locals go to resolve their disagreements. What better place to remember and recreate family stories of life in Central Africa? Cocktails drunk underneath the tree of forgetfulness can help make the good memories stronger than the bad.
I recommend this book!
on September 4, 2011
I went to a boarding school where I met many daughters from the far-flung Empire, & I'd listen to their stories in awe. So was thrilled when I learnt that Alexandra Fuller had begun writing her Africa memoirs.
This one is about what her Mum & Dad lived through & recounted over many a libation during her return trips to their latest home on the north shore of the Zambezi River. It is also salted with her own memories & those of her older sister telling us of grand & hopeful adventures as well as dire danger, searing sorrow & the occasional Wobbly attack.
In her ebullient voice AF evokes the Africa that entranced this couple who survived grim childhoods ala Robert Louis Stevenson (most of us did = world wide economic depression & then war); found each other in East Africa & created an enduring marriage with multiple pregnancies & deaths, valiant horses & generations of dogs.
Nicola Fuller of Central Africa did not live a politically correct life (so get over it!), however, her daughter's rapturous telling of her parents wonderfilled & fearsome journeys in strange lands during times that were a-changing, guides you through domestic & national upheavals, all the time leaving scents & scenes for you. You also get just the right doses of godawful politics, dry as dust humor, hard won local lore & philosophies.
Babes in the woods, they were, with certain luck to survive to old age, still working & learning & wondering what the next morning will bring, & by evening, sitting under the Tree of Forgetfulness, remembering.
Very well done. Am looking forward to when Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood gets here.
on October 3, 2011
Alexandra Fuller was five when her mother, best known as Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, began programming her to become a writer. In the first paragraph of her latest book, "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness," Alexandra tells us that Nicola "loves books and has therefore always wanted to appear in them ...." Alexandra's first book, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," was a memoir of her experiences growing up in Africa, and surely the book her mother refers to in this latest volume as "That Awful Book." This new memoir is a sequel featuring her family with Nicola Fuller of Central Africa as the leading character and her father, Timothy Fuller the primary supporting one. She includes many conversations with her mother, who often utters some variation of "I suppose you're going to put that in another Awful Book." Then she decides that will be okay.
Nicola Fuller is definitely a colorful character, albeit a rather tragic one, due in part to her challenge of living with bi-polar disorder coupled with the chaos of life in Africa as the colonial era ended and the natives reclaimed power. Although humor abounds in this story, much of it serves to put the best face on a grim situation. There were many grim situations. Nicola's parents had emigrated to Kenya years before her birth, but she was born in Scotland. Her mother went home to stay with her parents while Nicola's father fought in Burma in the second World War. When Nicola was two, the family returned to Kenya, and while she was proud later in life to be "one thousand percent Scottish," her heart was in Africa and she was excited about raising her own family there. Unfortunately, about the time she began raising her own family, African countries became independent, and life as Nicola had known it turned a dark corner.
Alexandra's father was colorful in his own way. Volatile political conditions made it impossible to follow a smooth, traditional career path, but he was adept at finding ways to keep his family fed and sheltered. The family moved around, and Nicola knew how to use the Uzi she kept at hand, living on the edge of bloody revolution for years. She continued to bear children, burying some along the way, gradually becoming less resilient and falling into deep depressions. By the end of the book, she had come to a semblance of a balanced outlook on life.
If this book were only about these eccentric characters, it would have less appeal, but Alexandra does a fine job of combining the family story with historical perspective on Africa during this time of transition. She gives an authentic, insider view of the colonist perspective and reluctance to loosen their grip on "the old ways," and this view is not always flattering. This "things you'll never read in the history books" material adds considerable interest and value to the vagaries of history and human frailties.
The book is beautifully edited and full of old photos that bring the characters to life. Frequent references to native African plants and local phrases add more color. Fortunately Alexandra includes a "Cast of Main Characters" at the beginning and a "Guide to Unusual or Foreign Words and Phrases" at the end to help demystify some of the exotic African names and vocabulary.
I especially recommend this story to anyone fascinated with the experience of white colonists who chose to stay in Africa when most had fled, and to anyone who has been to or hopes to go to Africa.
on February 1, 2012
While there is, as one critic mentioned, considerable overlap with the author's first book (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight), I found this one even more fascinating and compelling, with many elements I consider when evaluating a memoir:
* It contains lyrical and vivid writing that pulls the reader into the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of the narrative's places, especially Africa.
* It offers an introduction to a world and culture and place that is so utterly foreign to me, I felt as though I had gone on a grand safari myself.
* Its character development was both harsh and compassioniate, especially the rendering of the author's mother "Nicola Fuller of Central Africa."
* The story provides keen insight into the often unmentioned civilian victims of war.
* The narrative explores life's emotional complexities of, and brutalities against, the human heart, yet it moves quickly enough not to become maudlin or mired dark places.
* It inspired me to think about how I would react in some of the unspeakably awful circumstances that Nicola Fuller, the author (Nicola's daughter), and others in the family had to face. We judge others at our own peril.
* The author's ability to step back far enough to see her family with the eye of an artist and the heart of a loved one impressed me.
* The book succeeds, I believe, in conveying why anyone might be willing, against incredible odds, to keep coming back to what must be a very seductive part of the world.
Here are some quotes I noted:
Speaking of her mother's childhood in Kenya: "It was, in many ways, a charmed and feral childhood."
Describing the brutal landscape: "It was toward the end of the long dry season; the wind had been red all day with dust blown in from Uganda and settling on everything like powdered blood, the sun blistered out of a high, clear sky."
...and her mother's garden: "an encouraged tangle of bougainvillea and passion fruit vines, beds of lilies and strelitzia, rows of lilac bushes and caladiums looming over borders of impatiens."
"War is Africa's perpetual ripe fruit. There is so much injustice to resolve, such desire for revenge in the blood of the people, such crippling corruption of power, such unseemly scramble for the natural resources. The wind of power shifts and there go the fruit again, tumbling toward the ground, each war more inventively terrible than the last."
As the author tells the story of her brother's illness and death: "My impuse is impossible: I want to reach back through the years and protect my young parents from what happens next."
"Surely until all of us own and honor one another's dead, until we have admitted to our murders and forgiven one another and ourselves for what we have done, there can be no truce, no dignity and no peace."
"People often ask why my parents haven't left Africa. Simply put, they have been possessed by this land."
on September 7, 2011
I loved this book, as well at Alexandra Fuller's others about Africa. It evoked memories of my South African mother-in-law's stories about her life, which were shared over many a bottle of wine. I feel that Ms. Fuller's parents truly have "lived", without the ballast that seems to define modern life - big, expensive houses filled with pretty stuff, fancy cars, and the latest and greatest electronics -and are deeply satisfied with their choices. It's a simple life, of course, filled with heartaches, disappointments, and the occasional brush with danger, but a meaningful, well-lived one. Alexandra Fuller is a superb and insightful chronicler of how Africa "gets under one's skin".
on August 28, 2011
oh, wait! This IS her first book, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood," told again from a slightly different perspective to be sure, and the stories fattened up a bit. Still, it was a good read about a family on the fringe of the fading British Empire that sees its view of the world - and themselves - flipped ass over teakettle when African natives take control of their own countries rather than let the British continue to exploit them to their own ends. The family loses everything several times, but they don't let that get them down; they suck it up and go back to work elsewhere in the country ... or in a nearby country. They all seem to have come right in the end, I must say; I wouldn't have lasted beyond the first disappointment.