Monday, February 7, 2011

Back to Africa with Alexandra Fuller

I think a lot of people will be rejoicing at the announcement of another installment in the Alexandra Fuller canon. Penguin Press is calling Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness both a sequel and a prequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. And it is simply fantastic. Fans of Don't Let's may find this hard to believe, but Cocktail Hour is Fuller at the absolute top of her game.

She continues on the subject of her family's life in Africa in the same riveting, deeply personal, highly accomplished style readers came to love in Don't Let's. And if Don't Lets was Bobo's story, her explanation for her love of Africa, then Cocktail Hour is her parents' story. She thoroughly interviews both of them and tells the stories of their parents and their grandparents. From Nicola's fiercely Scottish ancestors to Tim's bucolic family farm in England, we get a better picture of why they value land so highly, why owning a farm in Africa was their life's pursuit. Fuller captures both of her parents' voices so perfectly, allowing them to tell their stories (including their reactions to the publication of Don't Let's, what Nicola calls the "Awful Book.") in their own inimitable style. Perhaps through these interviews, and perhaps through an additional ten years of ruminating on the subject, Fuller seems to have come to a deeper understanding of what her parents experienced and what it all meant--living through wars, constantly moving, losing three children, and battling manic depression, all while desperately loving Africa and being unwilling to leave.

Fuller seems to have closed the loop that she left open with Don't Let's in an honest and satisfying way. You can feel how deeply healing the book must have been for her--not just the desperation to tell her story, like in the first go-around, but also the peace that comes with understanding your family and where you came from.

Coming in August from Penguin. While you wait, try Fuller's The Legend of Colton H. Bryant. It's amazing. One of my favorites.

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