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Review: Alexandra Fuller tells story of tragedy, toughness in Central Africa in 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness'

Ten years after publishing Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Alexandra (Bobo) Fuller treats us in this wonderful book to the inside scoop on her glamorous, tragic, indomitable mother: Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she liked to introduce herself. Nicola was raised in Kenya, where she lived the quintessential life of a white settler child. Her parents didn't go in for displays of affection, but they did give her a sound training in their values: loyalty to blood, passion for land, death before surrender.

Fuller skillfully weaves the story of her romantic, doomed family against the background of her mother's childhood "filled with magical people." Nicola married Tim, bore a perfect baby who never cried, and the dream continued.

In the rebel colony of Rhodesia, Nicola's romantic notions are quickly dispelled. Tim is fired, they lose a newborn son to meningitis, and Nicola falls into a profound depression. But she pulls herself up by her bootstraps, and in search of the ideal property, they become the proud owners of Robandi farm in Mozambique. Once again things go dramatically wrong. Mozambique gains its independence, the border is closed, and white Rhodesia sinks deeper into its desperate battle for survival.

The gloom is briefly dispelled when Olivia is born — "an almost redemptive thing of beauty." But 18 months later she is dead, and Nicola courts death by riding her horse into the guerrilla-infested hills, Tim retreats into silence, and for their daughters it seems that "nothing would ever be OK or safe again." One day they wake up to find the war is over, and with it the dream of White Africa. Nicola bears another child who dies, and this time she sinks into a place where no one can reach her. Yet miraculously she claws her way back, and 30 years after the collapse of Rhodesia, she and Tim live in Zambia, in a house built under the tree of forgetfulness, where the ancestors will help a troubled spirit. "You learn not to mourn every little thing," she says. "You can't, or you'd never, ever stop grieving."

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

By Alexandra Fuller

Penguin Press, 238 pages, $25.95

Review: Alexandra Fuller tells story of tragedy, toughness in Central Africa in 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 5:30am]

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