What I’m reading right now: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

The latest book we read at my incredibly fabulous book club is Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I would highly recommend it any and all literate people. It’s likely my favourite book discussed so far.

This biography is set in central Africa, and focuses primarily on the author’s mother, Nicola Fuller (of Central Africa, as she often liked to introduce herself). While the book is foremost a deeply personal retelling of the Fuller family history, Alexandra Fuller weaves in contextual snatches of the turbulent political climate of Central Africa from the 40s to the present, so that the story becomes a biography of many African countries as well, most specifically what is now Zimbabwe. It’s a coming of age story, in a way, of the Fuller family as a whole, but also of many African countries of today.

Fuller weaves her family truths with the truths of Africa, and speaks frankly of her parent’s rather unsavoury political leanings – being the white colonial Brits they were. While Fuller doesn’t condone the viewpoint of her parents, she is able to talk about it without judgement as well, and leads the reader to question the sticky issues of nationality, ownership, and a right to land — “Africa is for the Africans”. In the end, as Zimbabwe emerges out of years of brutal guerrilla warfare we, see the Fuller family too emerge after years of terrible losses, and can’t help but question, just who is an African? A Canadian? A Scot?

Fuller tells her tale with such breathtaking beauty that the whole story takes on an enchanting quality, and you tend to forget that this is not in fact a novel, that it is a true story of family, history and land. As Hilary said, reading this book is like reading a Wes Anderson film. The plot line is nowhere near linear, which we found added immensely to the enjoyment of the book. In order to tell your own family story, you need to jump around time and space, providing context in the form of full chapter anecdotes. The characters too are most Anderson in nature. The mum, Nicola, is rather emotionally damaged, after losing many personal wars in Africa, mirrored by white Brits were losing many political wars in Africa, and yet she maintains this air of glamour and intrigue. She’s a magnetic character. The father is a pipe smoking, hard-working, incredibly loving man, with an attachment to land, and a love of his land, Africa. And then of course there’s the author, “Bobo” as she’s referred to in the book, and her sister Van, providing the necessary doses of sarcasm to offset and ground the whole narrative. You fall in love with this family.

From the strikingly beautiful descriptions of landscape to the honest humour and great sadness played out in familial relationships, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness was a true joy to read.

~ Julia

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