Alexandra Fuller tells the story of her mother's life in this follow up to her 2001 memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood. Her mother, Nicola Huntingford, was born on the Scottish Isle of Skye, moved with her parents to the British colony of Kenya in the 1940s, and has spent most of her life in one part of Africa or another since then, including stays in Rhodesia and most recently on a tilapia farm and banana plantation in Zambia. The "tree of forgetfulness" from the title is a tree in front of their farmhouse in Zambia, which their Zambian neighbor declared to be a tree with ancestors inside it--"'If there is some sickness or if you are troubled by spirits, then you sit under the Tree of Forgetfulness and your ancestors will assist you with whatever is wrong.'" Fuller's narrative is full of ancestors, too, and she frames her reminiscences with conversations she's had with her parents on visits with them, giving the book a casual and personal feel as they talk about parents, grandparents, and other relatives. She examines the details of her mother's life: growing up, courtship, starting a family, the personal tragedies of losing young children to accident and illness by setting them against a backdrop of war, revolutions, and the end of British colonial rule in Africa. There is a refreshing and frank bluntness to the storytelling--like hearing family anecdotes over dinner with no holds barred-- the same style that prompted Nicola to refer to her daughter's earlier memoir as "that awful book." Through it all, the reader comes to know and begins to understand Nicola Fuller, whose life is brought out through a richness of detail and the personal style of her daughter's writing. Reading the earlier book first allows the reader to see some of the events of Fuller's childhood from different perspective--hers as a child-- but Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness stands on its own as a portrayal of a fascinating and heartbreaking life well lived amid difficult and extraordinary times.
Submitted by Chris G. at Bay View