Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Reviewed by Louise Hilton
Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a delightful peek into author Alexandra Fuller’s eccentric family’s experiences as British expatriates living in Africa. The book focuses on her irrepressible mother Nicola (or Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she sometimes introduces herself), whom the reader follows from childhood in western Kenya through her marriage to Tim Fuller and the couple’s restless wandering across the continent from Kenya to Rhodesia to Zambia.
Fuller’s first book about her family, the 2001 release Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, paints a less-than-flattering picture of Nicola, who makes references to the “Awful Book” throughout Cocktail Hour, warning family members not to confide in her daughter lest she write about it someday. Not all is light-hearted though – touching both on personal tragedies and the family’s experiences during the civil war in Rhodesia at the end of the 1970s (the country was subsequently renamed Zimbabwe), Fuller paints a vivid portrait of that turbulent period in African history.
At just 238 pages, Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness makes for a quick, engaging read about Fuller’s larger-than-life mother and her fierce determination to survive, and thrive, in a bewildering, challenging, but always beautiful land. Fuller says it best when she explains why her parents never left Africa despite personal heartbreak and political upheaval: “Simply put, they have been possessed by this land. Land is Mum’s love affair and it is Dad’s religion.”