Alexandra Fuller, neste site                                    



Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

by Alexandra Fuller





Em 2001, Alexandra Fuller (conhecida na família por Bo ou Bobo), então com 32 anos, publicou um livro de memórias que intitulou Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, que teve muito sucesso. Antes, escrevera seis novelas que não tiveram quem as publicasse.

O seu pai não leu o livro, a mãe chamou-lhe “aquele livro horrível”. Mas muitos leitores (tal como eu) adoraram o livro. E Alexandra disse sempre que o livro não era uma carta de amor a África, mas sim uma carta de amor a sua mãe (isso torna-se mais evidente no livro agora publicado).

Este é o segundo livro de memórias que se refere aos mesmos acontecimentos, sob novos pontos de vista. A figura da mãe é descrita com a mesma objectividade, mas com mais consideração. Por vezes, inclui mesmo as afirmações da mãe em discurso directo, o que não acontecia no primeiro livro. Apesar dos defeitos, ela revelou-se uma grande mulher.

As questões políticas são agora afrontadas, nomeadamente a extinção das colónias em África. O primeiro livro falava da infância e adolescência. Este, mais da vida da autora encarada como adulta.  O livro lê-se com prazer e não é uma sequela ao primeiro.

Como as datas nem sempre são expressamente referidas, aqui fica a cronologia:

1940, 9 de Março – nasce Tim, o pai

1944, 9 de Julho – nasce Nicola Fuller, a mãe

1964, 11 de Julho –Tim casa com Nicola

1964, 12 de Dezembro – o Quénia torna-se independente

1965, 11 de Novembro – Ian Smith declara unilateralmente a independência da Rodésia (Branca). Pouco depois inicia-se a guerra da independência da Rodésia.

1966 – 9 de Março – Nasce a filha Vanessa

1967, Fevereiro – A família abandona o Quénia e vai para a Rodésia

1967, Inverno – Nasce o filho Adrian que morreu meses depois, de meningite.

9-7-1968 – Vão de comboio para Lourenço Marques, onde embarcam para Inglaterra, e ali ficam dois anos e pouco.

1969 – 29 de Março – nasce Alexandra (Bobo)

1971 – Regresso a África. Ficam a morar em Karoi, na Rodésia

1973 ou início de 1974 – Compram a Fazenda Robandi em Burma Valley, perto de Mutare (Umtali), junto da fronteira com Moçambique

1976 – 28 de Agosto – nasce Olívia que morreu afogada em 9-1-1978.

1979, 6 de Dezembro – É assinada a paz da guerra da Rodésia. Poucas semanas depois, o País passa a chamar-se Zimbawe e Mugabe é Primeiro Ministro

1980, Junho – nasce um menino, Richard, que morre poucos dias depois

1982 – Por dois anos, Tim é gerente de uma plantação de tabaco perto do Lago Chilwa, pertencente ao Presidente do Malawi, Hastings Banda.

1984 – Vão para a Zâmbia, gerir uma fazenda de alemães junto da fronteira com o Congo

1990 – Os alemães abandonam a fazenda.

1993 – Bobo casa com Charlie Ross na Zâmbia. No ano seguinte mudam-se para os USA para o Estado de Wyoming.

1999 – Tim e esposa estabelecem viveiros de peixe – The Fullers’ Fish and Banana Farm – perto de Chirundu.  

2001 – Bobo publica Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. An African Childhood, o “livro horrível “

2002, Outubro - Bobo volta a Burma Valley em turismo

2004, Fevereiro - A Tia Glug decide ir ao Quénia participar numa reunião dos colegas do Liceu e convida a irmã Nicola e o cunhado, Tim, bem como a sobrinha Bobo.





August 19, 2011

Alexandra Fuller’s “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness”

By Binka Le Breton


Ten years after publishing “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood,” Alexandra (Bobo) Fuller treats us in this wonderful book to the inside scoop on her glamorous, tragic, indomitable mother: Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she liked to introduce herself.

Nicola was raised in Kenya, where she lived the quintessential life of a White Settler child, complete with dogs and ponies, snakes in the privy and a young chimpanzee as her best friend. Her parents didn’t go in for displays of affection, but they did give her a sound training in their values: loyalty to blood, passion for land, death before surrender. These values would stand her in good stead throughout her turbulent life.

Bobo skillfully weaves together the story of her romantic, doomed family against the background of her mother’s remembered childhood “filled with magical people,” the pukka sahibs who played cricket and polo in a “make-believe place forever trapped in the celluloid of another time.” Nicola married Tim, gave birth to a perfect baby who never cried, and the dream continued. The violence and injustice of colonial life had no place in this never-never land, and no one seemed to sense that the “minority’s complacent picnic on the backs of a deeply angry majority was over.”

We next see Nicola in the rebel colony of Rhodesia, where her romantic notions of the outlaw nation are quickly dispelled by the heat and hostility of the land. Tim is fired with no pay, they lose their newborn son to meningitis, and Nicola falls into a profound depression. But “Fullers aren’t wimps,” and somehow she pulls herself up by her bootstraps. In search of the ideal property, they drive to the Burma Valley on the Mozambique border, where after downing an impressively liquid lunch, they find themselves the proud owners of Robandi farm. Once again things go dramatically wrong. Mozambique gains its independence overnight, the border is closed, and White Rhodesia sinks ever deeper into its desperate battle for survival. “War is Africa’s perpetual ripe fruit,” Fuller reflects. “There is so much injustice to resolve, such desire for revenge in the blood of the people. . . . No-one starts a war warning that those involved will lose their innocence — that children will definitely die and be forever lost.”

The gathering gloom is briefly dispelled when Olivia is born — “an almost redemptive thing of beauty.” But 18 months later she is dead, drowned in a duck pond. Nicola courts death by riding her horse into the guerrilla-infested hills bordering the farm, Tim retreats into silence, and for the girls it seems that “nothing would ever be okay or safe again.” Yet they battle on, “fighting for Rhodesia as if it were the last place on earth.” One day they wake up to find the war is over, and with it the dream of White Africa. Nicola gives birth to another child, who dies after a few days, and this time she sinks into a place where no one can reach her.

She seems to have “run through all the energy and courage anyone is given in a single lifetime.” And yet miraculously she claws her way to the surface, stating defiantly that it was nothing more than “a little chemical imbalance.” And now, 30 years after the collapse of White Rhodesia, she and Tim live in Zambia, in a house built under the tree of forgetfulness, where the ancestors will help a troubled spirit. A 2010 photograph shows Nicola looking off-camera, smiling faintly. Does she see herself dancing, gorgeous with her long auburn hair, her pale green eyes? Flying over impossibly high fences on the perfect horse? Her magical childhood, her lost babies, the beautiful bloodied lands for which she fought so hard? A life ruined by Africa, redeemed by Africa? “You learn not to mourn every little thing,” she tells Bobo. “You can’t, or you’d never, ever stop grieving.”

Bobo tells the story of her long and often troubled relationship with her mother with unflinching honesty. She starkly describes war, death, madness, Nicola whirring despairingly round the house “like a trapped humming bird,” the “perennial hopelessness” of the farm.Bobo is the child with the yellow skin, dark hair and the “most impressively disagreeable expression,” while her sister Vanessa-darling is the perfect rosebud, and all the dead babies are sweet and beautiful. It’s Bobo who writes “That Awful Book” after which her mother won’t speak to her. We leave them at cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness after killing a puff adder in Bobo’s bedroom and breaking one of Nicola’s favorite walking sticks in the process. “Which would you rather?” asks Bobo, “Your deaf-mute walking stick or me?”

“I’d rather have my walking stick in one piece.” Nicola retorts. “Right, that’s it,” says her daughter. “I’m going to write an Awful Book and this time it really will be about you.”


Binka Le Breton is a concert pianist turned author who directs a rainforest research center in Brazil (www.iracambi.com); she has published six books on environmental and human rights.





August 22, 2011

A Mother’s Long Love Affair With Colonialism




By Alexandra Fuller

238 pages. The Penguin Press. $25.95.


Alexandra Fuller recalls in her electrifying new memoir that her mother — “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she has on occasion preferred to introduce herself” — had always wanted a writer in the family, “not only because she loves books and has therefore always wanted to appear in them (the way she likes large, expensive hats, and likes to appear in them) but also because she has always wanted to live a fabulously romantic life, for which she needed a reasonably pliable witness as scribe.” When her self-dramatizing mother assessed her life, Ms. Fuller goes on, she “matched it up against the kind of biography she hoped to inspire, something along the lines of ‘West With the Night,’ ‘The Flame Trees of Thika’ or ‘Out of Africa.’ On the whole, she was satisfied.”

In “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” Ms. Fuller gives her impossible mother her due. As readers of this author’s fierce 2001 memoir, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” will recall, Nicola Fuller was a larger-than-life figure in her daughter’s childhood, and in this volume she emerges as a sort of African version of Scarlett O’Hara: a beautiful and spirited young woman, who lived through war and refused to look back; a woman who would lose three of her five children; a woman who grew up in Kenya, attending fancy-dress parties, and who, by the end of the war in Rhodesia in 1979, had become a survivor, capable of riding shotgun in a Land Rover protecting her children from ambush with an Uzi.

Writing in shimmering, musical prose, Ms. Fuller creates portraits of her mother, father and various eccentric relatives that are as indelible and resonant as the family portraits in classic contemporary memoirs like Mary Karr’s “Liars’ Club” and Andre Aciman’s “Out of Egypt.” She describes how her parents met and fell in love and traces their peregrinations across the continent of Africa.

She writes about Auntie Glug, her mother’s sister, who would garden “until midnight while teaching herself Spanish,” and her maternal great-grandmother, who lived on the island of Skye in a grand old house that was so cold she “always wore at least five cardigans, the longest one on the bottom, layers and layers of shorter ones on top of that and a thick shawl around her shoulders.”

As her daughter tells it, Nicola Fuller was Macdonald of Clanranald on her mother’s side, a clan that actually had a “war cry” that translates from the Scottish Gaelic into English as “Gainsay who dare.” Her mum, the author writes, “holds dear to her heart the values of her clan: loyalty to blood, passion for land; death before surrender. They’re the sorts of values that lead you to kill and that get you killed, and in every important way, they were precisely the kind of stubborn tribal values that you needed if you were bound and determined to be White, and stay White, first during Kenya’s Mau Mau and later during the Rhodesian war. They were decidedly not the values of the Johnny-come-lately White liberals who survived postindependence in those African countries by declaring with suddenly acquired backbone and conviction that they’d always been on the side of ‘the people.’ ”

As in “Dogs Tonight” (which her family refers to only as “that Awful Book”), Ms. Fuller manages the difficult feat of writing about her mother and father with love and understanding, while at the same time conveying the terrible human costs of the colonialism they supported, reminding us that when white Rhodesians like her parents talked about “Our Freedom,” it “was a funny sort of Freedom that didn’t include being able to say what you wanted about the Rhodesian government or being able to write books that were critical of it,” and that “for the majority of the country, Freedom did not include access to the sidewalks, the best schools and hospitals, decent farming land or the right to vote.”

In fact, Ms. Fuller adds, when her mother speaks of her long-lost childhood in Kenya — where she had tea parties with a neighbor’s pet chimpanzee and entered show-jumping competitions with her favorite horse, Violet — it’s as if she were “speaking of a make-believe place forever trapped in the celluloid of another time, as if she were a third-person participant in a movie starring herself, a perfect horse and flawless equatorial light. The violence and the injustices that came with colonialism seem — in my mother’s version of events — to have happened in some other unwatched movie, to some other unwatched people.”

History and unforeseen accidents, however, would tear through Nicola Fuller’s celluloid dream. Her first son, Adrian, would die of meningitis; by the time the baby got to the hospital, it was too late. Her youngest daughter, Olivia — who somehow survived the perils of wartime Rhodesia, including land mines, ambushes and kidnappings — wandered off and drowned in a neighbor’s duck pond. Her second son expired days after his birth because a medical device needed to fix his palate did not arrive from South Africa in time.

The accumulation of losses, Ms. Fuller recounts, would tip her mother over into madness, and she would spend an interlude “strapped down in the mental ward” of a hospital and given “various doses of mad pills, happy pills, panic pills and sleeping pills.”

Had her parents not decided to stay on in wartime Rhodesia, had they followed the rest of their family and many friends back to Britain, Ms. Fuller suggests, things might well have been different. Few, however, she adds, “have the wisdom to look forward with unclouded hindsight,” least of all her parents, who clung to the idea of a colonial Africa with perverse tenacity.

Most of us, Ms. Fuller writes, “don’t pay so dearly for our prejudices, our passions, our mistakes. Lots of places, you can harbor the most ridiculous, the most ruining, the most intolerant beliefs and be hurt by nothing more than your own thoughts.”

Although Ms. Fuller would move to America with her husband in 1994, her own love for Africa reverberates throughout these pages, making the beauty and hazards of that land searingly real for the reader. She describes the dangers there — the cobra in her father’s office that killed three of their Jack Russell terriers; the python that got their cat — but she also conjures the richness of life on her parents’ new farm in Zambia: “Emerald-spotted doves” calling to one another, frogs “bellowing from the causeway,” the air boiling “with beetles and cicadas, mosquitoes and tsetse flies,” and egrets “white against the gray-pink sky” floating “upriver to roost in the winterthorn trees.”

Both her parents, she writes, want to be buried on that farm, when the time comes. Her father has picked a baobab tree above his fish ponds for the site of his grave. “Just wrap me in a bit of sorry cloth and put me deep enough in the ground that Mum’s bloody dogs don’t dig me up,” he says.

Her mother, who had picked another tree nearby, has rather different expectations. “I expect a big, elaborate funeral,” she tells her daughter. “Sing ‘The Hallelujah Chorus,’ wear large expensive hats and fling yourself into the grave after me.”





September 2, 2011

In Africa, a Child’s Nightmare Becomes a Writer’s Dream




By Alexandra Fuller

Illustrated. 235 pp. The Penguin Press. $25.95.


“I’m going to write an Awful Book and this time it really will be about you,” Alexandra Fuller promises when her mother complains over a favorite walking stick’s being broken in a battle with a poisonous snake. Another Awful Book, as far as her mother is concerned. Fuller had not yet been forgiven for publishing the first one in 2001, the intoxicating “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.”

Her family may well have felt betrayed by the ruthlessly cleareyed daughter’s impression of a dangerous, unruly childhood of minefields and malaria, on a succession of impoverished tobacco and cattle farms in war-torn Kenya, Rhodesia, Bot­swana, Malawi and Zambia in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Fuller’s parents are courageous, hardworking and colorfully eccentric. They are also stubbornly racist and unremittingly alcoholic; her mother suffers from brutal swings of mania and depression; her father lapses into silence. Three siblings die in infancy. If you have ever wondered what it takes to survive as a settler of inhospitable territory, meet Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she often introduces herself. She may have been a child’s nightmare — a terrifying, seductive, cruel and abandoning enchantress — but she is a writer’s dream. And she knows it. Which must make it easier to write another Awfully Fabulous Book.

Fuller has returned to the Africa of war, terror, death and her parents in her second memoir, “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.” This time, though, she returns as an adult, with the empathy of a more mature writer. She is also the mother of children old enough to remember things. She returns with a yearning to connect with her own inaccessible mother whose disconnectedness seems only to have knifed deeper into her daughter’s soul over the years. If “Dogs” was a love story about Africa, “Cocktail Hour” is a love story — with subtle, steady-handed recrimination but without the attendant rancor ­— about her mother, “the broken, splendid, fierce mother I have.”

Alexandra Fuller describes herself as a “reasonably pliable witness” to her mother’s dramatic life. About her first book, she says, “I had felt more than a little encouraged to write it — directed, even — by Nicola Fuller of Central Africa herself.” Well, children are like blotting paper; the trouble is you never know what’s going to soak in, or where the stain will spread. “Dogs” was written in the throes of remembering; “Cocktail Hour” recaptures the past through reporting.

Fuller reunites with her parents for a holiday in South Africa, during which she nudges them through their histories, listening as “the doves in the tree above our heads are wing clattering into their night’s sleep.” She does not censor the sanguine, cracked perspective of the colonialist. When her mother’s father shoots a Kikuyu, he is sentenced to one day in jail. “There was an outcry from the community. ‘My father was the starter at the races. . . . He couldn’t possibly spend the day in jail. He was the only one who knew how to do the starter flags.’ ”

Fuller visits Kenya — but Nicola distances herself from the highborn, decadent Happy Valley set. She remembers Inky Porter, an English aristocrat who hired Nicola’s mother as a baby sitter, handing over a newborn infant so she could join a hunt in Uganda. The baby was born “pickled in gin and withdrawing from cocaine.” It “died in agony . . . in my mother’s arms.” Nicola is impatient with the romantic mystique of Kenya: “No one talks about the poor dead baby.”

Alexandra returns to the Burma Valley in Zimbabwe, looking for traces of her family: “Robandi is the geography of my nightmares. . . . If I peel back the corner of memories of that place, what races in is too big for any of me to feel at one sitting — no mere piece of land can be responsible for that.” Three of her siblings died in what became Zimbabwe, one a toddler who had been left in the distracted care of 8-year-old Alexandra and a neighbor.

“Cocktail Hour” is disturbing in places, funny in others. It pulses with life and love. Nicola’s voice threatens to drown out everyone else’s, but fortunately she’s hilarious, creative, opinionated, ribald and tragic. She seems to have Lived Life in Capital Letters — and at first, this contaminates Fuller’s writing. Early chapters are peppered with references to the Awful Book, which give way, for example, to “Collect Aborigines or Begin a Breed of Dogs.” I’m a reader with a High Tolerance for Capital Experiences, but these seemed gratuitous, Nancy Mitford wannabes. But Fuller quickly muffles this tic. When she is in the company of her quiet, reserved, stalwart father, her writing becomes elegiac. “Dad found comfort in the emptiness: the lonely ribs of a long, gravel road, a makeshift bed under wild stars in an insect-sung night.” Her mother gave her material, but her father allowed her to find her voice.

Nicola Fuller dragged her belongings from one farm to another; with every move a few more possessions were cast off, until just about the only thing to have survived was a set of orange Le Creuset pots, their bottoms blackened. Everything else was “lost, stolen, broken, died, left behind,” she says. Much the same could be said of her life. But it is resilience that shines through: a tender, loving, attentive marriage miraculously survives poverty and calamity. Two daughters remain connected, each in her own way. And the family’s shared love of Africa endures.

After a lifetime of loss and failure, Nicola and Tim, in their 50s, decide to try one last time to own land in Africa. “Land is Mum’s love affair and it is Dad’s religion.” They build a farm on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia and successfully raise bananas and fish. Nicola chooses a site for their new home under a large Tree of Forgetfulness. “They say ancestors stay inside it,” their neighbor explains. “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. . . . All your troubles and arguments will be resolved.”

I suppose cocktail hours have a way of resolving things. Writers turn to memoir for all kinds of good (and bad) reasons — but never to forget. We compulsively revisit an episode that shattered a life, or pick at a shard of memory that demands to be prized out of the bedrock of our souls. We work memory over, perhaps hoping, subconsciously, that things will turn out differently — or more realistically, that we will discover a key that unlocks a memory’s mysterious urgency. That drive to make sense, to find a deeper meaning in the shallows of daily life, to turn splintered chaos into a coherent story, makes a memoir worth reading. And “Cocktail Hour” hits the mark. It may be regarded as a prequel, or a sequel, to “Dogs.” It hardly matters. The two memoirs form a fascinating diptych of mirrors, one the reflection of a child’s mind, the other of an adult’s. Images bounce and refract over the years; the reader catches a glimpse of the adult in the child, and the child in the adult. Taken together, as they ought to be, the books transport us to a grand landscape of love, loss, longing and reconciliation.


Dominique Browning’s memoir, “Slow Love,” is being published in paperback this month; she writes regularly at the blog Slow Love Life.




August 23, 2011

Alexandra Fuller’s Mum front and center in second memoir


By Judy Bolton-Fasman



By Alexandra Fuller

Penguin, 235 pp., illustrated, $25.95


It may seem odd to have the word “forgetfulness’’ in the title of a memoir. But in this case, it is not the memories of life that are shed but the strife. In Central Zambia, where Alexandra Fuller’s parents retire to run a fish and banana farm, The Tree of Forgetfulness is a spot where villagers have traditionally resolved disputes and the Fullers finally find the peace that eluded them for much of their lives in Africa. The Fullers’ farm manager explains that a Tree of Forgetfulness miraculously grows from a single stick into an exceptionally sturdy tree - a tree that becomes home to ghostly ancestors who offer succor when someone is ill or troubled.

It’s appropriate that Fuller’s mother enjoys her tea under the Tree of Forgetfulness, where she and others recount days long past and ways of life now lost. Nicola, who identifies as “one million percent Highland Scottish,’’ has lived most of her life in Africa, where her ethnicity predisposes her to a fondness for animals and a belief in ghosts. In her new memoir, “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,’’ Fuller brilliantly captures her mother from the beginning:

“Nicola Fuller of Central Africa holds dear to her heart the values of her clan: loyalty to blood, passion for land, death before surrender. They’re the sorts of values that lead you to kill and that get you killed, and in every important way, they were precisely the kind of stubborn tribal values that you needed if you were bound and determined to be White, and stay White, first during Kenya’s Mau Mau and later during the Rhodesian War.’’

“Cocktail Hour’’ is a sequel to Fuller’s best-selling “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,’’ her alternately affectionate and searing chronicle of her childhood amid the 1970s Rhodesian civil war, an account that Nicola refers to as “The Awful Book.’’ This new work ostensibly traces the lives of Fuller’s parents Nicola and Tim from their childhoods in Scotland and England, respectively, through the personal tragedies and the political violence that marked the lives of their family and friends in mid-20th-century Africa.

But whatever its design, the center of this book is Nicola. In fact, a reader senses that Nicola felt not so much betrayed by Fuller’s first memoir as miffed that occasionally she had to share the spotlight with her daughter.





August 20, 2011


MEMOIR REVIEW: "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness"




The author of "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" tells the story of her mother's life.



By Alexandra Fuller.

The Penguin Press, 238 pages


The lush, sepia-toned life of white settlers in Kenya, enabled by the trappings of the British empire, was almost gone by the mid-1960s when Alexandra Fuller's parents married in Kenya. Fuller, who previously deconstructed her African childhood ("Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood"), revisits familiar landscapes but uses her parents' lives, and her mother's in particular, as the pivot point for this rewarding memoir.

White rule ended and in 1964 the Republic of Kenya was born. Fuller's parents, for a time, led storybook lives filled with perfect horses, stellar cocktail parties and sumptuous equatorial light. Soon enough the deteriorating political climate caused seismic shifts in the family landscape. Fuller's maternal grandparents sold their beloved Kenyan farm and left Africa for Britain. Fuller's mother, nicknamed Tub, was heartbroken.

Sensing increasing tension and danger, Tub and Fuller's father moved farther south "as African countries in the north gained their independence." Fuller's parents and her older sister settled in Rhodesia. Tragedy struck, necessitating the family move to England, where Alexandra was born in 1969. The gray skies and soggy landscape could not compete with "the warmth and freedom, the real open spaces, the wild animals, the sky at night."

The family returned to Rhodesia, borrowed money for a farm and soon found themselves surrounded by a civil war. Fuller's father was conscripted into the Rhodesian Army Reserves. Tub voluntarily joined the police reservists. Fuller and her sister learned to shoot to kill; her parents slept with an Uzi and a rifle next to their bed. Their home became a fortress surrounded by security fencing. They mine-proofed their Land Rover. Fuller's mother spirals out of control suffering from "funny moods, depression and mental wobbliness."

By this time, Fuller had moved to the United States; her sister to England. But with his wife fading and their dream of owning a farm again a mirage, suddenly "all the pieces of ritual and custom and law shook loose" with the issuance of a 99-year lease on farmland in the Zambezi Valley.

When Fuller visits her parents' farm in 2010, she finds domestic and agricultural bliss. "My parents' farm is a miracle of productivity, order and routine -- measuring, feeding, pruning, weeding, weighing, packing." Her mother has become one of the foremost producers of farm-raised tilapia. Her father's banana crop creates a "green cathedral of leaves."

Fuller's narrative is a love story to Africa and her family. She plumbs her family story with humor, memory, old photographs and a no-nonsense attitude toward family foibles, follies and tragedy. The reader is rewarded with an intimate family story played out against an extraordinary landscape, told with remarkable grace and style.

Julie Foster is a freelance book critic in Sacramento.






Saturday, August 27, 2011


'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' review: Loss and reconciliation in war-torn Rhodesia


Sarah Cypher


Alexandra Fuller
The Penguin Press
238 pages


Alexandra Fuller returns to the African landscape in her memoir, "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness." It accepts the curious task of being both a prequel and a sequel to her 2001 debut, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood." With a love of landscape, a historian's lens and a knack for laugh-out-loud satire aimed at her mother's narcissism, Fuller tells the broader story of her family's participation in the Rhodesian civil war.

Fuller's mother is a "one million percent Scottish" descendant of ancestors to whom "land is good; blood-soaked land is better; and land soaked in the blood of one's ancestors is best." The sentiment seems odd, though, when we see the fervor with which Nicola embraces Africa, and later defends her part of it with an Uzi. She thinks of herself as "Nicola Fuller of Central Africa," a designation repeated so often that it becomes a humorous refrain. It is typical of the memoir's humor, in fact, rising from the author's sustained shock at her mother's gauche, imperial attitudes: Nicola behaves "as if she were a third-person participant in a movie starring herself, a perfect horse and a flawless equatorial light. The violence and the injustices that came with colonialism seem -- in my mother's version of events -- to have happened in some other unwatched movie, to some other unwatched people."

In widening its angle, "Cocktail Hour" transcends a criticism that "Dogs," by being limited to a child's perspective, went too soft on colonial racism. Fuller tackles the curious tension between the two narratives: Nicola's skewed version of her place in history, and the self-aware memoir that encompasses Nicola and the simmering conflicts that erupted across Africa as colonies became nations. What unites the two narratives is a fierce love of land. Neither succumbing to white self-hatred nor stooping to colonial apologia, Fuller begins to explore the crumbly moral ground of being attached to a place that does not belong to you. She writes about the inevitable negotiation of belonging, the claims and counterclaims on land, the cultural and personal memories at stake, and the debts paid in work and blood.

Like the rest of Rhodesians, the Fuller family found itself on the wrong side of history, but in losing the war, a series of farms and three of five children, they tell a complex story of adaptation and reconciliation. Fuller reminds us what peace actually looks like. It is not the silent peace of an absolute victory, but the humble and constant negotiation of one existence among others.







Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Alexandra Fuller returns for 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness'


By Jo Gibson


After Alexandra Fuller wrote her lyrical, searing memoir of a Rhodesian childhood, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," it became a best seller in 2001. Her mother was appalled that she "Told All in an Awful Book, like on the Jerry Springer Show."

Nicola Huntingford Fuller saw herself as a latter-day Karen Blixen, not as the creature her daughter portrayed.

Now, the writer takes a second bite of the apple, delivering a prequel of sorts, focusing on her parents in "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness." It is another stunner, and at its center is Fuller's "broken, splendid, fierce mother."

The book is slow going in Part I, where Nicola's Braveheart-style Scottish heritage abounds with fey, quirky ancestors. The narrative picks up after Nicola is born in 1944 on the Isle of Skye, leaves for Kenya with her parents, gazes at the equatorial light and is forever bewitched.

As a toddler, Nicola is dressed like the identical twin of Stephen, a chimpanzee, and the pair gambol about, often unsupervised. She develops a fearlessness with all manner of animals.

Fuller writes that there was no separating horses from Nicola's childhood: "Mum holds up her hands and makes a pair of horse's ears with her fingers, 'For as long as I can remember, I have seen the world from between the ears of a horse. That's my view. Straight ahead, don't look down. Don't look back.' "

In contrast, her future husband was raised in London, the scion of a long line of naval officers. Eschewing all that, Tim Fuller sets out for Africa. Two weeks after his arrival, he spots a gorgeous blonde -- Nicola -- deplaning at the Nairobi airport, and recalls that her beauty "knocked the wind out of a chap."

Married, the duo is "beautiful, optimistic, and aware of being the most exciting couple anyone had ever met."

For four decades, they lead an adventurous life, moving from one African farm to another, having children and suffering the loss of them, with Nicola at times drifting toward madness.

Yet when the "scrappy little bush war" in Rhodesia intensifies and Tim is conscripted, Nicola straps on an Uzi and continues to farm: " 'The big thing was to pull up your socks and carry on as effortlessly as possible,' Mum says. She was scornful of the ten thousand whites who left the country, 'The chicken run,' we called it. And she had no tolerance for those who said black rule was inevitable. 'Over my dead body,' she said."

Of course the sun, blessedly, sets on white supremacy. In 1999, when they are in their 50s, Tim and Nicola start again on a banana and fish farm in Zambia. Fuller visits them there to gather fodder for the memoir.

The writer's finesse at handling the element of time is brilliant, as she interweaves near-present-day incidents with stories set in the past. Both are equally vivid.

Often, the three sit on the patio, under the canopy of the Tree of Forgetfulness, and tell stories. African lore suggests that ancestors reside in the tree, ready to help smooth away troubles. Tim and Nicola settle down over drinks:

" 'Here,' Dad said, handing her a glass.

"Mum raised her glass, 'Here's to us,' she said. She smiled, 'There's none like us, and if there were, they're all dead.'

"Dad took a sip of his wine. 'You can say that again,' he said."

With "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" Alexandra Fuller, master memoirist, brings her readers new pleasure.

Her mum should be pleased.


Jo Gibson teaches writing at Cleveland State University.








AUGUST 24, 2011


After Empire

Deadly snakes, withering crops, threats of violence—the price to be paid for the pleasure of staying on in Central Africa.



Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

By Alexandra Fuller
Penguin Press, 238 pages


When the sun set on the British Empire, it did so more rapidly in some places than others. For the British in India, the Raj came to an abrupt halt: No sooner were the states of India and Pakistan born than the British pukka sahibs who had long resided in India scuttled "home" to England. In the Britain of the late 1940s, straitened by postwar austerity, it was common to see Indian artifacts, and their alien-seeming owners, in watering holes like Cheltenham, adding a splash of exoticism to England's gray palette. The premise of Paul Scott's novel "Staying On" (1977) is the rare situation of its main characters, a British couple still in India after independence, the only British residents in what had once been a fully British "hill station" for denizens of the Raj.

For colonials in Africa—a place more recently settled than India, and more alien and hostile—the balance often tilted the other way. Neither independence nor wars of liberation could keep many from staying on. Alexandra Fuller grew up in one such family. Her previous memoirs, "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" (2001) and "Scribbling the Cat" (2004), describe, respectively, her childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and her return to Africa, years later, for a journey through its war-torn landscape.

In "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness," Ms. Fuller revisits her childhood, focusing more on her parents' experience than her own. Along the way she conveys the magnetic pull that Africa could exert on the colonials who had a taste for it, the powerful feeling of attachment. She does not really explain that feeling—she is a writer who shows rather than tells—but through incident and anecdote she makes its effects clear, and its costs.

Ms. Fuller's parents—running a farm in Rhodesia in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the country was independent but still white-ruled—lose an infant son because the medical attention that might have easily been available elsewhere was absent. Another child, left on a neighboring farm when the family travels to a city under fire from insurgents, wanders off and drowns in a duck pond. Ms. Fuller vividly describes being pushed into a bomb shelter at school during an insurgent raid.

The climate was not always friendly either. In the north of Rhodesia, where the Fullers lived, persistent drought made the soil arid. "Cultivated crops wilted blue in the fields," Ms. Fuller writes, "wild trees on the kopjes failed to leaf out and thirsty snakes swarmed to drink the dog's water."

Eventually the Fullers bought a farm in the lush eastern highlands of Rhodesia, overlooking the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. Not only was the farming better but the nearness of Mozambique meant cheap wine and delicious food. "Portuguese wine, stinky cheese, piri piri prawns," Ms. Fuller's delighted mother says. But no sooner does the family arrive than a revolution breaks out in Lisbon (in April 1974), and Mozambique is quickly granted independence. A black nationalist state there ends the easy flow of goods, and Mozambique begins lending aid to Rhodesia's insurgents. Before long the Fullers are living in a war zone. When the family drives anywhere, her mother sits with her Uzi pointed out the window.

Such conditions would be enough to send most of us into exile, but for the Fullers it was simply another price to be paid for what might seem, to an outsider, the dubious pleasure of living in Central Africa. Ms. Fuller's mother, the author says, "was scornful of the ten thousand whites who left the country: 'The chicken run,' we called it. And she had no tolerance for those who said black rule was inevitable." When it did come, in 1980, life was filled with new uncertainty but, as it turned out, no immediate danger. Robert Mugabe, in the early stages of Zimbabwe's existence, was mostly conciliatory toward the country's white population.

The Fullers struggled on, then moved to the neighboring (black-ruled) nations of Zambia and Malawi. The Tree of Forgetfulness in the book's title, a translation of the tree's poetic African name, stands on the family's current farm in Zambia, where Ms. Fuller shows her parents, on one of her recent visits, enjoying their sundowners—only to be interrupted by a dog's peculiar bark telling them that a deadly snake has once again invaded the guest cottage and must be (carefully) killed.

It is clear from Ms. Fuller's account that, in different ways, her parents are emblematic of a sturdy colonial type. Her father, born in 1940 to a British naval family, came of age when the empire was in its dying throes, but he launched himself into what remained of imperial possibility. Farming in Canada was followed by a spell as an aide to the governor general of Barbados. When independence mandated that the post be held by a Barbadian, off he went to Kenya, just as it cast off British rule though not Britons.

In Kenya he met Ms. Fuller's mother, who came from a white Kenyan family. The book's portrait of her hardy clan, with roots in the rugged island of Skye off the coast of Scotland, reminds us that there was a lot more to British East Africa than the Happy Valley set—those wife-swapping high flyers so familiar to readers and movie-goers. The residents of the Happy Valley, Ms. Fuller's mother says, were "cruel and silly. Wastrels." They were, she adds, "nothing like us at all."

Just so. For most British colonials, Africa was not a playground but an ordeal—one that they kept choosing despite withered crops, deadly snakes and threats of violence. Life was, as Ms. Fuller recalls, "fraught and exciting, terrible and blessed." She adds, believably: "It's not easy to leave a life as arduously rich and difficult as all that."


Mr. Rubin is a writer in Pasadena, Calif.




Published 30 Aug 2011

Nicola Fuller revisits mother’s African youth in intimate memoir



By Henry Clayton Wickham


Being the subject of not one, but two of what she calls her daughter’s “awful books,” ranks among the least extraordinary of the grievances Nicola Fuller can claim after her long and bloody love affair with African soil. In Alexandra Fuller’s new memoir, “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” she revisits the setting of her first book, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” this time to recount the adventurous and hauntingly tragic life of her wild, resilient mother — the self-proclaimed “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa.”

Fuller paints in vivid prose her mother’s idyllic childhood in imperialist Kenya, her difficulties as the mother of a white family during white-ruled Rhodesia’s bloody civil war and the peace she finally finds, farming in her old age beneath the “Tree of Forgetfulness.”

As she recounts her mother’s stories of her wild Kenyan upbringing (her best friend growing up was an ape named Stephen), Fuller also points to the story her mother never tells; one of imperialism and oppression. She writes that her mother speaks of her youth “as if she were a third-person participant in a movie starring herself, a perfect horse and flawless equatorial light. The violence and the injustices that came with colonialism seem — in my mother’s version of events — to have happened in some other unwatched movie, to some other unwatched people.”

Nicola Fuller has something of an ego and, as Fuller says, “she has always wanted to live a fabulously romantic life for which she needed a reasonably pliable witness as scribe.” Nicola finds this scribe in her daughter, but the remarkable honesty with which Fuller tells the story may be more than her mother ever bargained for.

On some level, Fuller’s book is about her mother — her youth, her flaws, her plunge into depression and her ultimate redemption — but on another, it is a testament to the unrelenting horror of war. “War is Africa’s perpetually ripe fruit,” Fuller writes, remembering the violence of her childhood. She recalls how her father always drove the family jeep with a rifle on his knee, as her mother scanned the red-dust plains of Rhodesia from the passenger side, holding an Uzi.

Near the end of the book, Fuller tries to come to terms with her mother’s complicity in the horrors of racial discrimination and war. “Few of us pay so dearly for our prejudices, our passions, our mistakes,” she writes — and it is true. Three of Fuller’s siblings die during infancy as the family struggles to survive in Rhodesia’s inhospitable environment. In one of the book’s most moving passages, Fuller describes how the violent civil war left her baby brother’s gravesite unmarked along with countless others. “Humans have an unerring capacity to ignore one another’s sacred traditions and to defile one another’s hallowed ground,” she writes; “Surely until all of us own and honor one another’s dead, until we have admitted to our murders and forgiven one another and ourselves for what we have done, there can be no truce, no dignity, no peace.”

In the end, “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa” emerges from her daughter’s funny, tragic, compassionate and honest narrative as a flawed but sympathetic character. Though she curses the thought of another “Awful Book,” through this memoir Alexandra Fuller becomes what her mother always wanted: a biographer worthy of her extraordinary life.




Published: April 02, 2002


WRITERS IN PLACE; Wyoming Scenery, African Memories


As a little white girl wide-eyed with fear, Alexandra Fuller looked up at Africa from the lowdown, losing side of a war over minority rule.

She saw ''terrorists'' (blacks fighting whites) who wanted to chop off her ears, lips and eyelids -- or so she was told. She saw her mother splatter a spitting cobra against the kitchen wall with the family ''oozie.'' She saw her baby sister floating face down in a duck pond, accidentally drowned and extravagantly mourned by parents who often drank too much.

Having survived and having written all this up in an unblinking and much-praised memoir, ''Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight'' (Random House, 2001), Ms. Fuller has lived for the past eight years here in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. Surrounded by elk, moose and seasonal herds of high-income humanity, her handsome home near Jackson Hole is a place that she says is all but unimaginable for an African, which is what she says she is and will always remain.

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On a recent bone-chilling Sunday afternoon, with great chunks of ice choking the nearby Snake River, Ms. Fuller, 33, led a reporter on a brisk walk up a snow-slick mountain road. As she walked, she explained what has become of the Rhodesian girl who studied first aid but was authorized to find a vein and organize a drip only ''if All the Grown-ups Are Dead.''

She has acquired a soft-spoken American husband who sells real estate, and two exceedingly polite children, ages 8 and 5, who are rarely allowed to watch television and never allowed to eat at McDonald's. Having grown up smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and eating whatever wild game her father managed to shoot, she has become a nonsmoking vegetarian who often rails against the ''tasteless fast food eaten by Americans who are out of touch with reality.''

Ms. Fuller and her husband, Charlie Ross, who met and married in Zambia when he was a safari guide, moved to the United States in 1994 to give their children (Sarah was born in Zambia; Fuller in Wyoming) a grounding in America. Mr. Ross's grandmother owned a farm near the Tetons, and he spent many summers there as a child.

Ms. Fuller said she had no idea what she was getting into. She quickly came to appreciate that Jackson Hole, in large part because of the wealth and worldliness of its vacationing rich people, is considerably more cosmopolitan than its Rocky Mountain environs.

''If we had landed in Idaho Falls, you can bet I would have been on the next bloody boat home,'' she said.

At 5 feet 5 inches tall, she looks extraordinarily fit, although she complained of ''midwinter blobbiness,'' which she said had been heightened by several weeks of traveling around the United States to talk about her book. The African and Rocky Mountain sun has done what it often does to fair-skinned people who spend long hours out of doors, chiseling premature crow's-feet around her eyes. With a first book in its fourth printing and selling well, with a second book nearly done (a sequel to ''Dogs,'' it recounts her adolescence in Zambia) and with a gainfully employed husband, Ms. Fuller is on the verge of something she seems to find deeply discomforting: upper-middle-class comfort.

''I hate the celebration of wealth in this country,'' she said. ''I hate the construction of 8,000-square-foot houses with a dozen bathrooms. I think it is a criminal waste. I hate that George W. Bush's first instruction to the American people after 9/11 was to go forth and go shopping. I really try to consume responsibly.''

She concedes, though, that her protests sound a bit tinny.

''Yes, I am aware of the ironies here,'' she said with a nod toward the custom-built mountainside house, the garage with its two S.U.V.'s, the Arabian horse she boards at a neighbor's ranch and the other signifiers of affluence that have settled around her family since it settled in Wyoming. ''If I wasn't aware, I would be unconscious and arrogant.''

Still, she's uneasy with what she says is the unreal ease of life in the United States. Searching for the familiar ground of hardship, she exercises. She skies cross-country for three hours nearly every winter day. When the snow melts, she rides her horse and trail bikes and runs up low mountains.

She also climbs high mountains. Twice, she has scaled the Grand Teton, a 13,770-foot peak that requires some technical climbing skills and considerable endurance.

''There is a rope between you and a big splat,'' she said. ''When I am climbing, there is a sense that all the talent and looks and whatever else we hang our identity on mean nothing.''

It is only since her book came out in December, though, that Ms. Fuller has had sound reason to fret about escaping her talent or the fruits thereof. That's because until the reviews came in (writing in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called her book a ''gripping memoir'' made of ''stark, matter-of-fact reminiscences about her childhood and fierce, Dinesen-esque paeans to the land of Africa'') there were no fruits.

Ms. Fuller wrote and failed to publish eight novels about a southern African country that closely resembled the Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she grew up. The novels were about hapless aid workers, isolated farm wives and old married couples, all of them white and all of them confused by change as white-minority rule lost out to the black majority.

When she wasn't exercising or writing books that no one wanted to publish, she worked: as a waitress at the Snake River Grill in Jackson Hole, as an office manager for a local environmental group, as a copy editor for a local newspaper. Work put her in proximity to the many rich Americans who have vacation homes around Jackson Hole.

''So many of them were so demanding,'' she said. ''Yet they had a complete lack of realization of what they really needed.''

Ms. Fuller then discovered a paperback copy of ''The Liars' Club,'' a 1995 memoir by Mary Karr. Without moralizing or judgment, the book tells unsettling stories of working-class parents, relatives and adults who often behave badly.

''It was the lack of judgment in that book that freed me up,'' Ms. Fuller said. ''In fiction, I kept apologizing for behavior for which there is no apology. In 'Dogs' I decided not to be beautiful. I decided to be honest about race and about alcohol.''

She knocked out her 301-page memoir in about six weeks. Getting up 3 a.m. in the early winter of 1999, she wrote as fast as she could type until her family began making noises about breakfast. She said she had no difficulty recalling the sensory details that permeate and enliven her book (the ''woo-ooping'' of nightjars, jackals and hyenas; the crackle of dried grass; the viscous gleam of a human body slathered in fresh blood).

''I have been writing these details down ever since I was 5 years old,'' she said.

In deciding not to write beautiful, Ms. Fuller put the warts of her parents' personal lives -- especially their racial attitudes -- on public display. She turned a particularly glaring light on her mother's problems with alcohol and mental illness.

''My father won't read the book, but he is very proud of me,'' she said. ''My mother read it and felt betrayed. She was hoping I would write a book like Elspeth Huxley, where everyone comes off smelling like a rose.''

As she trudged up the mountain road here in Wyoming, Ms. Fuller explained that while her book has strained her ties with her parents, it has not broken them. Her father and mother, she said, have a way of making a big fuss and moving on. Just as they have endured a troublesome daughter, she said, they have figured out how to put up with black-ruled Africa. They fought against it in Zimbabwe but have settled comfortably as fish farmers in Zambia.

Ms. Fuller ended the walk by saying she had to get home. She was organizing an afternoon birthday party for her son. Cooking and games and funny hats had to be seen to.

When she turned to walk down the mountain, she was confronted with the spectacular snow-covered valley that lies east of her house. She still finds it difficult, she said, to believe that this place is home.

In fact, she is leaving.

She and her husband are moving at the end of the year to Tanzania.


''I want the isolation and the solitude,'' she said. ''I want to see what happens as a writer. I would love to take a closer look at my mother's family.''

She also said she wanted her children to grow up far from fast food and teenage television and the all-consuming American desire to buy stuff. She may also write about Wyoming.

''I'm sure I will be able to articulate the details of this place,'' she said, ''when I am far away from it.''

Writers in Place

This article is the first of a series on writers focusing on the meaning that a sense of place evokes in their work and in their lives.





Published: May 1, 2008


At Home With Alexandra Fuller

In Wyoming, the Dark Side of America’s Thirst for Energy




Pinedale, Wyo.


ALEXANDRA FULLER has two homes that are 60 miles — and a world — apart.

One is in Wilson, Wyo., a village just outside the mountain resort town of Jackson. It is tucked into a steep hillside, a stone’s throw from the steep two-lane highway that climbs over the rugged Teton Mountains to Idaho.

It is here that Ms. Fuller has what she calls the good life, Rocky Mountain style. After she serves a dinner of tender Montana lamb and roasted potato, she settles into a sofa in front of a roaring fire in her 2,500-square-foot home, where she strokes her dogs; Tanq, a Labrador, and Bertie and Dilly, two corgis. Two of her three children, Sarah, 14, and Cecily, 2, are at home; Fuller, 11, is at a sleepover. In their free time the family can go out cross-country skiing or river rafting.

Ms. Fuller, 39, whom everyone calls Bo, is a writer best known for her first book, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood” (Random House, 2003), a painful memoir of growing up in Rhodesia during the civil war. Whenever she finds it tough to write, Ms. Fuller gets on her Arabian horse, Sunday, and heads into the pine-draped mountains with her dogs.

“There’s something soothing about hearing a horse whinny and swish her tail,” she said. “You leave on a ride with all the noise in your head and at the end things have quieted down and I have the best way and the most poetic way to write the passage.”

But there is a nearby world that obsesses her, a world she finds unsettling. She and her husband, Charlie Ross, a real-estate broker, recently built a one-room log cabin in Sublette County, more rural and far less rarefied. It offers an expansive, soul-stirring view of the extraordinary Wind River Range and the high plains — but at the same time a window into what she considers Wyoming’s destruction by the development of gas and oil fields.

“I fell in love with Wyoming because it reminded me of Africa,” she said. “It’s beautiful, but a harsh environment and it’s tough to make a living.”

The vast differences between her two homes and the land they occupy inspired her newest book, “The Legend of Colton H. Bryant,” due to be released next week by Penguin Press. The book is based on the true story of one young man’s life and death working as a roughneck in the oil fields in Sublette County, one of the most active areas for oil and gas exploration and drilling in the country. The book grew out of an article she wrote for the New Yorker in 2007 called “Boomtown Blues.”

The book is part of her effort to bridge the gulf between her homes in two very different parts of the state. She feels that like many Americans, the people in Teton County — which includes Jackson — do not understand what it takes to feed the country’s seemingly insatiable demand for energy.

“Most people don’t know what goes on in an oil field,” she said. “It’s a war landscape. Those boys are out there 24 hours, even when it’s 50 below and the wind is blowing sideways.”

After a day in and around Jackson, with its mega-mansions built by the super wealthy, including some from the energy industry such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Ms. Fuller offered a tour of the other Wyoming, the grit and beauty and working-class economy of Sublette County. “We’ll take a look at the sausage factory,” she said as she packed her skis for the trip.

On a brilliantly sunny day, on a sweeping landscape of glittering, snow-covered plains and mountains, we parked the car along the road and headed out on a three-mile cross-country schuss on snow so deep it buried the fence posts. The route was fairly flat until the end, when it ascended through pristine, trackless snow in a grove of lodgepole pine and aspen that camouflaged her cabin.

Ms. Fuller opened the cabin for the first time in weeks. When the road is open she spends weeks at a time at the cabin, but in winter, she uses it less because access is difficult. Ms. Fuller said she wrote much of the book there on a laptop in her bed, covers pulled up, a box of tissues on the table next to her. “I cried a lot as I wrote,” she explained.

After a lunch of fruit and bread at small table in the main room that is living room, dining room and kitchen, Ms. Fuller put on her skis and headed out. She paused in front of her home at the crest of the hill and looked out over the prairie that rises up to the mountains known as the Winds. She said that the view was bound to change.

“It’s all been leased,” she said. “It’s all slated for oil and gas development.”

Later we drove past the tiny town of Pinedale, and across public land, where towering steel oil derricks flying American flags slice into the blue sky and a natural landscape once full of antelope, jackrabbits and sagebrush is now a vast industrial landscape. White pickup trucks raise clouds of dust and fierce winds blow tumbleweeds across prairie scraped to bare dirt by bulldozers.

Biologists say that this development could destroy the antelope migration from outside Pinedale to Yellowstone National Park, hundreds of miles north, now the longest overland mammal migration in the Lower 48.

On some days this formerly pristine part of Wyoming has air pollution levels that exceed federal standards for human health, and the clear Western sky is sometimes marred by a brown cloud.

Wyoming is under assault here, Ms. Fuller said, standing on a road buffeted by the infamous high plains wind. She believes people are being used by the energy industry. In the past several years, dozens of workers have died on the rigs around the West.

“Throwing warm beating hearts at a failed energy policy is a tragedy, whether it’s the war or the oil fields,” Ms. Fuller said. “The jobs are a good thing. But going after it so frantically and doing so much damage is wrong.”

The cruel and beautiful landscape here reminds her of her childhood. She was born into white Rhodesia and came of age during the war for independence by the black majority, who renamed it Zimbabwe. By the age of 6, she said, she had learned how to use an Uzi submachine gun and knew the basics of first aid. She suffered the ordeal of her baby sister drowning, an older brother who died of meningitis and another who died in infancy; she says the cause of death was being born in Africa.

Now she considers herself a messenger who must bear witness to what she sees as the war on the land, with its natural and human casualties.

“I travel between these worlds. I couldn’t leave the oil field behind when I came home to Teton County,” she said. It has been hard, Ms. Fuller allows, to tell her friends about the other Wyoming. “I can’t talk about my childhood, I can’t talk about the war, and its hard to talk about what’s going on in the oil field. That’s why I wrote the book.”

Kaylee Bryant, the mother of Colton, the book’s subject, is pleased with Ms. Fuller’s take on Wyoming and her family. “She hit it pretty doggone close,” said Ms. Bryant, who works in a school cafeteria in Evanston. Her husband and surviving son are still roughnecks. “She even hit Colton’s personality close, for never having met him.”

“Rather than write in the rhetoric of conflict, she’s chosen to tell a story of one young man,” said Terry Tempest Williams, a neighbor of Ms. Fuller in Wilson, who has long written about the West. “That’s much more powerful because it touches our humanity.”

It is critical, Ms. Fuller said, that people know who to blame. “Teton County has a huge carbon footprint with heated driveways, roofs and huge houses heated all winter long with no one in them,” she said. “I don’t see this as something the roughnecks or the oil companies or the administration alone is doing. It’s something we’re all doing.”


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