In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller returns to Africa and to her unforgettable family, whom readers first met in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight .Read more...
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In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller returns to Africa and to her unforgettable family, whom readers first met in Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. At the heart of this family, and central to the lifeblood of her latest story, is Fuller's iconically courageous mother, Nicola (or, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she sometimes prefers to be known). Born on the Scottish Isle of Skye to a warlike clan of highlanders and raised in Kenya's perfect equatorial light, Nicola holds dear the values most likely to get you hurt or killed in Africa: loyalty to blood, passion for land, and a holy belief in the restorative power of all animals. With a lifetime of admiration behind her and after years of interviews and research, Fuller has recaptured her mother's inimitable voice with remarkable precision. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is as funny, exotic, terrifying and unselfconscious as Nicola herself.
We see Nicola as an irrepressible child in western Kenya, then with the man who fell in love with her, Tim Fuller. The young couple begin their life in a lavender colored honeymoon period, when east Africa lies before them with all the promise of its liquid honeyed light, even as the British empire in which they both once believed wanes. But in short order, an accumulation of mishaps and tragedies bump up against history until the Fullers find themselves in a world they hardly recognize. We follow Tim and Nicola as they hopscotch the continent, restlessly trying to establish a home, from Kenya to Rhodesia to Zambia, even returning to England briefly. War, hardship and tragedy seem to follow the family even as Nicola fights to hold onto her children, her land, her sanity. But just when it seems that Nicola has been broken by the continent she loves, it is the African earth - and Tim's acceptance of her love for this earth - that revives and nurtures her.
A story of survival and war, love and madness, loyalty and forgiveness, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an intimate exploration of the author's family and of the price of being possessed by this uncompromising, fertile, death-dealing land. In the end we find Nicola and Tim at a table under their Tree of Forgetfulness in the Zambezi Valley on the banana and fish farm where they plan to spend their final days. In local custom, the Tree of Forgetfulness is where villagers meet to resolve disputes and it is here that the family at last find an African kind of peace. Following the ghosts and dreams of memory, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is Alexandra Fuller at her very best.
Alexandra Fuller is also the author of the forthcoming novel, Quiet Until the Thaw.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-04-25
- Reviewer: Staff
A sardonic follow-up to her first memoir about growing up in Rhodesia circa the 1970s, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, this work traces in wry, poignant fashion the lives of her intrepid British parents, determined to stake a life on their farm despite the raging African civil war around them. Fuller's mother is the central figure, Nicola Fuller of Central, as she is known, born "one million percent Highland Scottish"; she grew up mostly in Kenya in the 1950s, was schooled harshly by the nuns in Eldoret, learned to ride horses masterfully, and married a dashing Englishman before settling down on their own farm, first in Kenya, then Rhodesia, where the author (known as Bobo) and her elder sister, Vanessa, were born in the late 1960s. The outbreak of civil war in the mid-1970s resolved the family to dig in deeper on their farm in Robandi, rather than flee, to order to preserve a life of colonial privilege and engrained racism that was progressively vanishing. While the girls dispersed as grownups (the author lives in Wyoming with her American husband), the parents managed to secure a fish and banana farm in the middle of the Zambezi valley in Zambia, and under a legendary Tree of Forgetfulness (where ancestors are supposed to reside and help resolve trouble) they ruminate with their visitors over the long-gone days, full of death and loss, the ravages of war, and a determination to carry on. Fuller achieves another beautifully wrought memoir. (Aug.)
How Africa became home
Most parents are familiar with the figurative “landmines” of childhood: scraped knees, hurt feelings, unsuccessful playdates. But few, at least in the West, have to worry about actual ones. Landmines are but one of the hazards that Alexandra Fuller, author of the memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (2001), had to contend with while growing up in war-torn Rhodesia in the 1970s.
With her latest memoir, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Fuller returns to Africa and her endlessly fascinating family. In this follow-up, which easily stands alone, Fuller revisits familiar terrain, but with a vastly different perspective—that of someone a decade older who’s now a parent herself.
While her first memoir chronicled her Rhodesian childhood, this one focuses on the lives of her intrepid parents, Tim and Nicola Fuller, who resolved to make a life for themselves on their African farm despite personal heartbreak and political upheaval. At its core, however, Cocktail Hour is the story of Fuller’s dynamic mother, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she is sometimes known. Fuller recreates scenes of her mother bumping across treacherous terrain in a Land Rover, an Uzi lying across her lap, and striding across the land with an assortment of dogs in her wake. Fuller interviewed both her parents extensively for this book, especially Nicola, whose voice she has captured with remarkable precision.
Born “one million percent Highland Scottish” on the Isle of Skye and raised in Kenya during the 1950s, Nicola rode a donkey to school, where she endured harsh treatment at the hands of the nuns; became an accomplished equestrian at an early age; and married a dashing Englishman before settling down on a farm, first in Kenya, then Rhodesia, where the author and her sister Vanessa were born in the late 1960s. When a civil war broke out in the mid-1970s, Fuller’s tenacious parents decided to dig in rather than leave Africa. We follow the young Fullers as they traverse the continent, fleeing from war and unspeakable heartache, hopscotching from Kenya to Rhodesia to Zambia.
When the girls moved away as grownups (the author lives in Wyoming with her American husband, a river guide), their parents procured a fish and banana farm in Zambia, where they remain to this day. It is here that Fuller returns at the end of the book to sit under the legendary Tree of Forgetfulness, where, according to local lore, ancestors reside and villagers meet to resolve disputes.
Fuller brings Africa to life, both its natural splendor and the harsher realities of day-to-day existence, and sheds light on her parents in all their humanness—not a glaring sort of light, but the soft equatorial kind she so beautifully describes in this memoir. She renders this portrait of her family with both humor and compassion—from Nicola and Tim’s early years, awash in that fragrant Kenyan air, to their later ones in the Zambian valley where they seem to have finally found home.