Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness|
Penguin Press 2011
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". . . a compelling tale that almost reads like fiction."
Alexandra Fuller’s biography, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” tells of her parent’s costly determination to remain in “White-ruled” Africa, “the worst kind of costly; life and death kind of costly.”
Her mother, “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa,” as she prefers to be called, was only two when her parents moved to Kenya, and where she later met her husband, Timothy Fuller, a British agriculturist. When Kenya gained independence, Nicola, her husband, and child, Vanessa, moved south. Fuller writes her mother doesn’t say it, but what she meant was she “wanted to stay in White-ruled Africa.”
They chose Rhodesia where White colonists had illegally declared independence from Britain, triggering economic and social sanctions. It was an “outlaw nation,” a situation her mother found exciting, but not for long. For years, the Fullers were in a “climate of war,” at times homeless, penniless, and living out of a car. A farm job didn’t work out, so Tim got a job as a bouncer, than a miner, until a small inheritance allowed them to purchase a small farm near Mozambique, where again they soon encountered fighting. Tim was conscripted into the Rhodesian Army reserves, while Nicola joined the police reserve. The author recalls the family slept with an Uzi next to the bed and ate armed with pistols.
For the Fullers, the most significant losses were three children, one child dying from meningitis, another passed due to lack of medical assistance, and the third accidentally drowned in a duck pond. When Rhodesia gained independence and became known as Zimbabwe, the Fullers’ farm was taken over by squatters. These events drove Nicola into a “madness,” even strapped to a bed in a mental hospital. But still they refused to leave their beloved Africa.
Fuller writes that in her mother’s memories she didn’t believed Black rule was inevitable, “over my dead body,” she had remarked. But today, Nicola and her husband have accepted majority rule and lease land from the government where they farm fish and bananas. “Few have the wisdom to look forward with unclouded hindsight,” notes the author.
In perceptibly honest dialogue and crisp story-telling, Fuller manages to engage the reader less into the morality and politics of apartheid, but rather portrays her own life and her parents’ African tenure in a compelling tale that almost reads like fiction.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla