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 October 5, 2011
I read Alexandra Fuller's 'Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight'and thoroughly enjoyed that; was disappointed with 'Scribbling the Cat' (her follow-up to 'Don't Lets....'), and I'm happy to say that 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' is another one of Fuller's literary triumphs. Her command of language; her inimitably dry wit, and her ability to move so eloquently from humorful moments to profoundly thought-provoking, heart-stoppingly intense summations of life in Central Africa - with its main characters, Nicola and Tim Fuller - makes this a thoroughly absorbing book. I particularly found Fuller's conclusions on the Rhodesian War of Liberation - both balanced and enlightening. She doesn't take sides and is able to look objectively at the profoundly disturbing atrocities that everyone - from every side - committed. In the end, she says, "No one starts a war warning that those involved will lose their innocence - that children will definitely die and be forever lost as a result of the conflict; that the war will not end for generations and generations, even after cease-fires have been declared and peace treaties have been signed. No one starts a war that way, but they should. Even a good war - if there is such a thing - will kill anyone old enough to die." It takes a great deal of skill to be able to encapsulate the spectrum of emotions and feelings that Africa evokes in someone like the author's mother, Nicola Fuller, who is magnetically drawn to the life that Africa offers. In this book, Alexandra Fuller writes a sensitive account of her mother's joys and sorrows...and of her eventual, brave triumph over past pain. I sincerely hope that Nicola Fuller of Centra Africa finds her daughter's book most definitely NOT awful.
on August 24, 2011
We all should have our own Tree of Forgetfulness.....what a wonderful thought.
"People often ask why my parents haven't left Africa. Simply put they have been possessed by the land. Land is Mum's love affair and it is Dad's religion." Page 117
From the beautiful landscape of the Isle of Skye in Scotland to the lush lands of East Africa....you will be taken on a journey with Nicola Fuller through her childhood and her adult life.
This book is beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of feelings, daily living, and African landscapes. You will also be given a history lesson of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
It is also quite entertaining. You will love the stories, connect with the characters, feel their pain and mainly their love of the land in Africa even though Tim always said and was reminded by Nicola...."But I thought you said Africa was for the Africans." Page 210
I thoroughly enjoyed this book......vicariously living the life of the Fullers was fun but frightening. I can't begin to give all the details in this short review.....you will definitely need to read it. You will love it. 5/5
on September 30, 2011
If you liked "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight", I think you'll like this even more. It gives a very personal, heartbreaking look into her family, especially her parents' lives. Her mother figures prominently in this and you can't help but be amazed and astounded by her strength and perseverance. I highly recommend this book. The writing and story are beautiful.
on December 22, 2011
I read and enjoyed 'Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight' a couple of years ago and when I read some of the other reviews of 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' I almost didn't buy this book due to the fair number of reviews that said it was basically a rewrite of the first book.
Yes, some of the same events and anecdotes are retold in this book, but mainly from 'Mum's' perspective which is quite different than the author's perspective experiencing these same events as a child. This is a beautifully written and heartfelt memoir that really brings colonial East and Southern Africa to life for the reader.
If you enjoy Alexandra Fuller's memoirs try Peter Godwin's 'When a Crocodile Eats the Sun' and Douglas Roger's 'The Last Resort'.