Monday, July 1, 2013


We first met them in Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight.  Author Alexandra Fuller continues the story of her family in the sequel called Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. Both books are favourites, both are recommended! 

With a narrative that moves skillfully back and forth in time, Fuller introduces us to her ancestors, who left Great Britain for Kenya. Her memoir tells of the love her family came to experience for Africa: a love of the wild, a love of adventure, a love of land and nature.  Many people tell you that Africa can possess the soul. It must be true, but why?  

When we experience Africa's abundant primordial landscape, the presence of wildlife, and the freedom from conformity that can exist in this beautiful continent, these things strike a fundamental chord within us; they cannot be exiled from memory. Instead, they create a permanent love and longing for Africa. It’s a perilous love because along with beauty a danger abides there. It manifests itself in terms of poverty, war, the absence of medical care, needless death. This dangerous love took hold of Fuller’s family. 

The memoir focuses on Fuller’s parents, concentrating on the girlhood and adult life of her romantic, adventurous, eccentric, probably bipolar, certainly courageous and always loving and entertaining mother, Nicola Fuller. The product of British colonial Africa, Nicola along with her husband Tim, leave Kenya for the West, but cannot become accustomed to it. Before long they return to Africa determined to stay forever.  It is a decision that will cost them dearly. Low in funds, they choose to settle and farm in politically turbulent Rhodesia, where land can be had for less.
That's Nicola Fuller with her first best friend, Stephen Foster.  Kenya, 1946 
This was in the early 1970s, when the brutally oppressive Rhodesian government, led by Ian Smith, had forced most of the six million black Rhodesians into Tribal Trust Lands, where their actions could be monitored and controlled. Fuller admits that the white colonialists, numbering at about 250,000, did not question the treatment of blacks, “preferring to believe that theirs was a just life of privilege. Critics accused these whites of belonging to the Mushroom Club: kept in the dark and fed horseshit.” 

A guerrilla war broke out, during which white South Africa offered help to Rhodesia through the use of chemical weapons. Rhodesia was eventually turned over to the black majority and was renamed Zimbabwe. The Fullers lost their farm, but more severe in scope was the death of three children and the psychological breakdown of Nicola.  Through it all, however, to quote Nicola Fuller, “it didn’t occur to us to leave … we came to see our lives fraught and exciting, terrible and blessed, wild and ensnaring … (we saw) our lives as Rhodesian, and it’s not easy to leave a life as arduously rich and difficult as all that.” So they stayed on, moving to neighboring countries, trying to find work, looking for a home. Several years later, they settled in Zambia, eventually building a fish and banana farm, finally being able to savour their love of Africa in relative peace. They built their new home close to a tree called “the tree of forgetfulness," which according to legend possesses magical powers: by sitting under the tree of forgetfulness all troubles and arguments are resolved. And "Nicola Fuller of Central Africa," as she likes to call herself, believes this "2 million percent." After her daily work tending her fish ponds at the farm, you will find her sitting under the tree of forgetfulness, pouring herself a cocktail. Actually, her husband Tim (who oversees the banana part of the operation), pours the cocktails, Nicola, along with Tim, of course, enjoys.  
           The author's mother, Nicola Fuller, likes to cook flavorful stews in her treasured Le Creuset cooking pots. I think she will enjoy my red pepper stew. 

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an extremely engaging book, difficult to put down. Alexandra Fuller writes with honesty, sensitivity, and where it fits in, with humor. She understands her mother’s viewpoint (which has undergone improvement throughout the years), and she is also clear about the suffering black Africans endured under colonial oppression. One cannot help but be disturbed by the history of colonial Africa, poignantly described here.  However, the book is also populated by a plethora of eccentric characters, be they human, simian, equestrian or canine.  They are entertaining and unforgettable.  Plus there are those Le Creuset pots.  A set of orange Le Creuset pots that move along with Nicola Fuller all the many times she pulls up stakes.  Thousands of delicious, flavorful stews were created in them! The pots, over 40 years old now, are displayed in her kitchen, and they still see regular use. (Buy something of quality, and you will have it forever).  
Author Alexandra Fuller, now an American citizen residing in Wyoming, writes lovingly both about her family and about Africa. Her prose shines.  After all, she is describing her beloved mother and her beloved Africa.  

This is my contribution to Novel Food, the literary/culinary event hosted by Simona from Briciole.  Read it, cook something inspired by it, and then write a post about it.  For this round, I made a lovely stew with red peppers. 

I cooked the stew in the oven, the low and slow way.  
I used a Le Crueset pot of course, which by the way was green. In it went chopped onions, fresh tomatoes, potatoes, allspice and bay leaves. All in all this was a very pleasing, very nice stew, with ingredients that melted in one's mouth.


  1. What an amazing story! As an aside, I also find amazing that both you and Deb chose a book set in Africa. It seems very hard to write about a place and a time that was so fraught with pain and uncertainty, but then when we look back we have a large view, while people living in it have the day-to-day life to deal with. I love the image of the pots as providing stability in time of upheaval. Great choice of recipe! Thank you so much for contributing to Novel Food.

    1. What a lovely comment Simona. Thank you very much!


  2. What a fantastic introduction to this book. You've made me want to read it and its prequel. I love your comments about African history and why westerners are attracted to it.

  3. Your stew looks yummy - I think *anyone* would enjoy it! Mmmmm....

  4. Love those titles! I had a trip to Alaska grab my soul (though apparently not enough to move there), so I sort of understand how a place can be entrancing.

    And the stew does sound fantastic--cooked slow and in a dutch oven? Oh, yeah...

  5. I echo Simona--how great that we both selected books set in Africa. (And that we both made comforting and nourishing stews as our inspired dishes) ;-) This stew looks wonderful and I am putting both books down on my "to-read" list--they sound so intriguing.