Alexandra Fuller’s unforgettable memoir of her wildly eccentric mother
Dark and funny and irresistably full of life, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is Alexandra Fuller’s memoir of her high-spirited, eccentric, irrepressible, “mad but marvellous” mother, the self-styled Nicola Fuller of Central Africa.
If you read and enjoyed Fuller’s earlier autobiographical book Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, you’ll know something of what you can look forward to in this volume, written ten years later.
And if you loved Out of Africa, then you’ll get a sense of warm familiarity in the setting of Nicola’s childhood, Kenya at the end of the colonial era.
But be forewarned – this is Out of Africa as seen in a fun-house mirror, at once amusing and alarming, distorted.
I’m charmed, however, by the same sense of distant vistas and muted, dusty colours, and the sense of ancient magic — the Romance here somewhat grotesquely overlaid with the alcoholic boisterousness of the Anglo-colonials, with their horses and dogs and cocktail hours and casual racism and sudden violent death, in war and by careless folly.
We follow the glamorous Nicola, her inscrutable and tolerant husband, and their two daughters from Kenya to the Isle of Skye and back again to Rhodesia, Malawi and Zambia, to the empty-nest home on the banks of the Zambezi where the Tree of Forgetfulness is ultimately found – or perhaps not.
Flitting through time and space in a narrative, as Fuller does here, is to risk creating a confusing trail of loose threads; but this author is a deft storyteller, rolling out a tapestry of people and places so vivid and unexpected that I was deeply reluctant to close the covers on the final page, to let this remarkable family go off into their uncertain future without me.
If you enjoy reading personal memoirs of exotic places and eccentric people, don’t miss Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. As one reviewer puts it, “Alexandra Fuller’s family makes you feel much better about your own.”