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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Genre: Memoir (??)
Hardcover 256 pages
Book Source: TLC Book Tours
My Rating 94/100

In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley-era Africa of her mother's childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father's English childhood; and the darker, civil war- torn Africa of her own childhood. At its heart, this is the story of Fuller's mother, Nicola. Born on the Scottish Isle of Skye and raised in Kenya, Nicola holds dear the kinds of 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. Fuller interviewed her mother at length and has captured her inimitable voice with remarkable precision. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is as funny, terrifying, exotic, and unselfconscious as Nicola herself. 
[Click here for more from Goodreads....]

My Thoughts:

This book is about the author's mother, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, and her life growing up in both Scotland and Africa, but mainly Africa. Nicola was born and raised in Southern Africa for the most part, with the exception of some time spent in the UK in. Like any interesting person who has a book written about them, Nicola is quite the character. She actually strikes me as being a little off, but if you consider the life she has led and her family history of taking "vacations" in sanitariums, then Nicola is really not all that bad.

Although, some of the things she subjected her family and children to are a bit much.  When you have to tote a machine gun or some such around, it's time to find another place to live. The author herself relates stories of her own childhood growing up in Africa, I think to shed light on her mother. All of these stories are amusing, but if you think about the actual events going on in the African countries they lived in at the time, it's pretty nuts.

I enjoyed this book a great deal for several reasons. The writing is beautiful and her descriptions of Southeast Africa are breath taking. It makes me want to visit someday or at least read more stories set in Africa. Regardless of what you think about Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, the woman has led an adventurous life, filled with heartache to be sure, but also filled with a fascinating quality that I can't quite describe. Nicola was a British colonial farmer in Southern Africa, around the time when many countries declared independence and organized themselves. I think that says it all right there.

This book also provides an abbreviated history of British colonial Africa and the experience of a white person living through it. Truth be told, these colonists should have known better. There are two hundred thousand of you and you expect to rule over a few million people and think it's ok? I felt like Nicola had some romantic notions or was a bit indignant about the whole process of independence. I'm not trying to judge, but this part of the story bothered me a bit, yet it was interesting. It made for compelling reading. Regardless of what I think, Nicola loved Africa. It is in her blood and she must live there, come hell or high water. I can certainly understand those feelings.

I should also mention that this book is the author's second. Her first, referred to by her mother as that "AWFUL BOOK" was written in 2003. I haven't read it but I certainly plan to.  I should also add that I think Cocktail Hour is a stand alone book and not reading the first did not diminish my ability to enjoy the story.

For more information, please visit Alexandra's website:

Here are the rest of the stops on this tour:

Tuesday, August 16th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, August 17th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, August 18th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, August 22nd: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 23rd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, August 24th: Jenny Loves to Read
Thursday, August 25th: Silver’s Reviews
Friday, August 26th: A Fanatic’s Book Blog
Monday, August 29th: An English Major’s Junk Food
Tuesday, August 30th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, August 31st: BookNAround
Thursday, September 1st: red headed book child

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on the tour.