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Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier Library Binding – May 3, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Thomas Wolfe's trusted axiom about not being able to go home again gets a compelling spin through the African veldt in Alexandra Fuller's Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier. Fuller (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight : An African Childhood) journeys through modern Zambia, to battlefields in Zimbabwe and Mozambique with the scarred veteran of the Rhodesian Wars she identifies only as "K." Intrigued by the mysterious neighbor of her parent's Zambian fish farm and further enticed by her father's warning that "curiosity scribbled the cat" ("scribbling" is Afrikaans slang for "killing"), Fuller embarks on a journey that covers as much cratered psychic landscape as it does African bush country. Though she and "K" are both African by family roots rather than blood, she quickly discovers that 30 years of civil war have scarred them--and the indigenous peoples they encounter--in markedly different ways. "K" is a figure of monumental tragedy, a decent man torn by war-fueled rage, a failed marriage, and painful memories of an only son lost to tropical disease. His adopted Christianity offers him only partial absolution, and Fuller details his gut-wrenching confessions of quarter-century old atrocities with compassion and rare insight. Her prose liberally salted with a rich, melange of Afrikaans and local Shona slang, Fuller nonetheless struggles with a narrative whose turns are often unexpected, yet driven by humanity. There's a clear sense that the author's fitful journey into the past with "K" has opened as many wounds as it has healed, and spawned more questions than it has answered. It's that discomfort and frustration that often reinforces the honesty of her prose--and reinforces Thomas Wolfe's adage yet again. --Jerry McCulley

From Publishers Weekly

Memoirist Fuller (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight) describes this book, about her friendship with a Rhodesian war veteran, as "a slither of a slither of a much greater story." This disclaimer doesn't excuse the book's thinness, as it traces Fuller's journey with the white ex-soldier, K, from his farm in Zambia through Zimbabwe and into Mozambique, to the battlefields of more than two decades ago. Fuller evokes place and character with the vivid prose that distinguished her unflinching memoir of growing up in Africa, but here she handles subject matter that warrants more than artful word painting and soul-searching. Writing about warâ€"its scarred participants, victims and territoryâ€"Fuller skimps on the history and politics that have shaped her and her subjects. Her personal enmeshment with K is the story's core. She's enamored of his physical beauty and power, and transfixed by his contradictions: K's capacity for both violence and emotional vulnerability, his anger and generosity, the blood on his hands and the faith he relies on (he's a born-again Christian) to cope with his demons. Fuller becomes K's confessor, and the journey turns into a kind of penance for her complicity, as a white girl in the 1970s, in a war of white supremacy. When K recounts how he tortured an African girl, Fuller swallows nausea and thinks, "I am every bit that woman's murderer." Fuller and K embark on their road trip ostensibly for the shell-shocked man to get beyond his "spooks" and for Fuller to write about it, but this motivation makes for a rather static journey. Photos.
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Product Details

  • Library Binding: 258 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press; 1st edition (May 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200165
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Library Binding
I was very unclear about how to rate this book. It's brilliantly written and about a subject -- the brutality of the war in Rhodesia and the human fallout from it -- that we don't know much about in the US. It's an amazing, up-close picture of a desolate part of Africa, that is nonetheless teeming with life and interesting individuals.

But there is a kind of patent dishonesty going on here that clouds the book's best intentions and the author's considerable storytelling gifts. The story is straightforwardly presented as authobiographical, but Ms. Fuller is incredibly stingy with revealing herself (while she virtually guts her subject, the former White Rhodesian soldier she calls "K"). In order to get "K" to open up to her and tell his absolutely wrenching, devasting story, Ms. Fuller manipulates him in an unusually cruel way -- she allows him to fall in love with her (even though she is a married woman with two children back in the US) and continues her deception throughout a long road trip, during which he confides his darkest secrets to her, believing that she is "the one" -- the perfect mate sent to him by God to heal his loneliness and his pain.

Although the stories of military violence, racism and horrific African poverty are deeply affecting, I was profoundly disturbed at the way Alexandra Fuller obtained K's life story. In many respects, she hurt and victimized this terribly damaged man in ways that are psychologically worse than violence -- by betraying his trust. (When I was in high school, there was a not-very-nice term for women who use their sexuality to keep men on a string.) Furthermore, Ms. Fuller is coy enough not to let us know if the attraction was at all mutual or what the state of her marriage was.
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Format: Library Binding
Alexandra Fuller's second narrative of Africa tells about her friendship with a former Rhodesian soldier code-named "K". After soldiering in the bloody civil conflicts in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Mozambique, K tries to start a new life of farming in Zambia, where he lives on the farm next to Ms. Fuller's parents. In a visit to her parents from her adopted American home, the author (nicknamed Bobo) meets the former soldier K, and on somewhat of a lark, gets him to agree to take her on a road trip back to Mozambique, to show her where he fought as a mercenary soldier.

There are many ugly, brutal details about the African civil wars in this book. Although the reading is painful, the message is important...war creates "fatal cracks" in both the soldiers of war and civilian bystanders, cracks which take the rest of a lifetime to repair. Bobo undertakes this story thinking that she could better understand the violent man that K has become by "walking a mile in his shoes". Yet the reader comes away with the lesson that war leaves a different impression on all who are involved.

Ms. Fuller's writing is beautiful and non-judgemental. The book is interspersed with amazing snapshots of the African people and countryside. I definitely recommend reading Ms. Fuller's own memoir first, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight". And be warned that the images in "Scribbling the Cat" are quite graphic. Nonetheless, this story is a compelling look at Africa, both today and during its civil wars of the 1980s.
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Format: Library Binding
Alexandra Fuller is a white woman who grew up in Rhodesia in the 1970s. Life was harsh and there was a war on. Eventually, her parents lost their farm and had to leave the country which is now called Zimbabwe. Eventually the family settled in Zambia and still live there. Alexandra, however, married and moved to Wyoming, where she lives with her husband and two children. One day, while visiting her parents, she met a man who had been a soldier in the defeated Rhodesian army. She was fascinated by him as well as the whole story of what had happened in Rhodesia during her childhood. A few months later she planned a short trip with him into the land where the fighting occurred. It was a journey of discovery for both of them. This book is the result of that journey.

Let me explain the title. The word "scribbling" means "killing" in the slang of the region. And it refers to the expression "curiosity killed the cat". She decided to take this trip because she was curious. It's as simple as that.

The former soldier, who she refers to as "K" is war hardened. He's now a loner, living on a farm he literally carved out of the African bush himself. Some native Africans work for him but his relationships with them are simply that aof boss and worker. His former marriage had ended in divorce and it was clear from the beginning that he was interested in Alexandra even though she was married.

She wasn't interested in him in that way. And I'll say right up front there that even though towards the end of their trip there was some romantic tension between them, it never materialized. The book instead is about their relationship to Africa and the way that Africa itself has shaped their personalities.
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