Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

In her new book, Fuller gives a full-scale portrait of her mother Nicola, the flamboyant force in Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.

(Penguin, $26)

“If you want a leg up as a memoirist, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a flamboyant, larger-than-life mother,” said Tom Beer in Newsday. Nicola Fuller “was certainly the most memorable character” in Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, her daughter Alexandra’s best-selling 2001 memoir about growing up in a family of British interlopers in post-colonial 1970s Africa. Now the indomitable “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa,” as she dubbed herself, is back for the full-scale portrait she deserves. The context Alexandra supplies this time makes Nicola a bit less frightening. But fortunately, she’s still the same “simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking” figure, weathering personal tragedies and violent civil wars, “swigging from bottles of wine, playing bagpipe records at full volume, and sleeping with an Uzi in the bed.”

Recounted with a daughter’s compassion, Nicola’s life adventures become “an urgent story of loss, war, and endurance,” said Judy Bolton-Fasman in The Boston Globe. Born in Scotland and relocated to Kenya at an early age, Nicola spent her childhood riding horses and holding tea parties with the neighbor’s chimpanzee. After marrying a stoic Englishman, she settled down on a farm in Rhodesia and into a life beset by difficulties: Three of the couple’s five children would die early, and war eventually forced them from their home. Nicola flirted with madness, but her passion for life and the land where she grew up proved difficult to extinguish.

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Fuller’s memoir strongly conveys “the magnetic pull that Africa could exert on the colonials who had a taste for it,” said Martin Rubin in The Wall Street Journal. Nicola is, in fact, the embodiment of the sturdy colonial expats whose “powerful feelings of attachment” to the dream of Africa caused them to hold tightly to it despite persistent drought, violence, and hostility to their kind. Fuller’s parents eventually find respite in Zambia, on a farm where locals have long gathered under a particular tree said to help people forget past troubles and grievances. Persistence, it seems, can lead to peace.

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