Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
“Drought! Nicola Fuller of Central Africa is experiencing severe drought!” shrieks Alexandra Fuller’s mother when her drink runs dry at a party.
If, like me, you have been experiencing severe drought since reading Fuller’s transcendent memoir Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Chlldhood, your wait for a refill is finally over. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is at once a sequel and a prequel to what Nicola Fuller of Central Africa has dubbed ” the Awful Book, whose full and proper title can never be mentioned in the company of my family.”
While Fuller “had felt more than a little encouraged to write it — directed even — by Nicola Fuller of Central Africa herself,” the author now tells her mother, “‘I’m going to write an Awful Book and this time it really will be about you.'”
Readers of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight will remember Nicola Fuller as the madcap, manic and often depressed mother of five children — three of whom died at tragically young ages — who, with her farmer husband Tim, raised a family in war-torn Africa. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness completes her story.
Born in Scotland on the Isle of Skye, Nicola Huntingford was raised in Kenya, where her closest childhood friend was a chimpanzee named Stephen Foster. She survives the Mau Mau uprising before meeting and marrying Tim Fuller. The couple share an unbreakable attachment to Africa:
“People often ask why my parents haven’t left Africa. Simply put, they have been possessed by this land. Land is Mum’s love affair and it’s Dad’s religion. When he walks from the camp under the Tree of Forgetfulness to the river and back again, he is pacing a lifelong, sacred commitment. . .”
As she fills in the outlines of her mother’s life, Fuller recalls her own exotic, adventurous and dangerous childhood, that was shaped by the hardships of life in war-ravaged Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. She charts her parents’ journey that has finally brought them to a relatively peaceful existence on a fish and banana farm on the Lower Zambezi River. She captures the larger-than-life character of her mother, a woman “who had been able to thumb thirty-two rounds into the magazine of an Uzi submachine gun in half as many seconds, . . who had been able to field-dress a war wound in the middle of a tobacco field, and deliver a baby in the back of a Land Rover by the light of a paraffin lamp; the woman who had flown an airplane across the Mkushi forest with no one but a dubiously qualified flight instructor for company.” A woman who moved from country to country with her dogs, cats, children, husband, bed linens, a bronze of the Duke of Wellington, and a set of orange Le Creuset pots and her indomitable sense of humor.
Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, who her husband refers to as “the most number one lady in all of Africa,” has lived her life to the fullest, bouncing back from the depths of depression to build her latest house under the Tree of Forgetfulness. It is a tree that has special powers according to their horse groom Mr. Zulu:
“They say ancestors stay inside it. If there is some sickness or if you are troubled by sprits, then you sit under the Tree of Forgetfulness and your ancestors will assist you with whatever is wrong. . . . all your troubles and arguments will be resolved.”
Cheers to Alexandra Fuller for delivering a delightful sequel that doesn’t disappoint. I loved this book — and am experiencing severe drought now that I have drunk it up.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is available at amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.