I have just finished reading a bunch of books by the same author, (Alexandra Fuller), and I couldn’t put them down! There is no Trilogy or “order” to her books, which aren’t exactly in sequence, but I found it easier to read them in the order in which they were written. I first found “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness”, and after reading just a few pages, I quickly realised that in the book she was referring a lot to things from her first book; “Don’t Let’s go to the Dog’s Tonight”. But I loved her writing style and knew that I was going to enjoy these, so decided that it was worth taking the risk and buying her first book as well (investing in two books that I had not yet read, by an author unknown to me felt a little risky!). But I promptly put the book down and bought the first one on Kindle to read straight away … I had already settled in to read for the night and so I didn’t want to wait!
Well it was a risk that paid off well and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure that it is a book for everyone, but she is both bold and outspoken and says things as they are (in fact more so, she doesn’t just call a spade a spade, she calls it a “bloody shovel” (swear words and all!), and at the same time she leaves a lot to the imagination. If you are looking for detailed descriptions of gory nitty gritty then you won’t find them here, …yet her descriptions of her surroundings, her feelings, her experiences, through the eyes of a child, make you feel like you are there, and the details that she doesn’t give, are almost better off not said because you can easily fill them in much better for yourself.
She has an English and Scottish heritage (both by her lineage and her own birth), but she is also the second generation to be born in the UK yet be brought up in southern Africa. Her early life is a rich and yet heart breaking tale of one lived at the very raw edge of life, both for herself, her siblings, her parents, and all the people around her.
I don’t like knowing the plot of a book before I read it, so my reviews are much the same, but suffice to say that the first book is definitely the place to start if you have any interest in her stories which can best be described as memoirs. Because she wrote “Don’t Let’s go the the Dog’s Tonight” first, everything in it is fresh and new and it helps to know nothing (or very little) beforehand. The rest of her books however often refer to that first book, but other than that are self contained and can be read in any order. She pretty much refers to much of her life in all of them and my only criticism if I have to have one, is that the same stories can sometimes be repeated in more than one book, without any new insight, understanding or new detail or information.
The first book gives her story from a child’s perspective completely, and I found it easy to separate how she experiences life then, with what she now adds to each part of her story from an adult perspective. “Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness” tells the same story from her mother’s viewpoint and beautifully adds background, an adult perspective, and an understanding of how it was for her and why things happened that were otherwise confusing for Alexandra as a child. “Scribbling the Cat“ technically tells someone else’s story, but it is very much part of her own story as she goes back and explores what it would have been like for an adult to have lived and fought through the war in what was then Rhodesia, through her childhood. It gives a different perspective yet again, to what was going on even further afield of her life, but around her and affecting her childhood deeply.
I love history, but not so much in the numbers and dates, but rather in a sense of people and places and the rawness of human beings. I don’t much enjoy autobiographies or memories as such either, because sadly, not everyone who lives a fascinating or eventful life, or has an amazing story to tell, can tell it well! But this really struck a chord for me as her story is beautifully written, is made up of very raw, real, human beings, and it tells the history of the places she lived, in a way that was not too many lists or boring details, but a recounting of human cost and sacrifice.
The fact that she lived in countries that I have never been to but in many ways were very similar to my own, held huge interest for me, particularly as she was born less than two years after me, and so we share an era as well as a corner of the globe. I enjoyed learning more about the world around me, in one sense on my own door step yet just that little bit further away than the edge of my own country..
But I think that the biggest thing for me, was that without actually ever saying so, she tackles and exposes what it is like to live through long term trauma.
In the last decade the world has been opened up to the reality of incredible abuse stories. Time and time again they pop up, and on levels that many of us cannot begin to comprehend. How can this be possible? How can these things happen without anyone seeing or hearing or knowing something? These stories need to be told, and the world needs to know what is happening under their noses. But just because not all trauma is as bad as those massive horrendous human tragedies, that we must lose sight of the every day people who are also suffering. This book is not one of those massive stories, rather it is one of consistent trauma, and is a huge reminder how it is so easy to miss, growing up with everyone simply doing the best they can or know how, coping with life and tragedy and hard work, that little people get lost and broken and fall through the cracks.
In Gregory Jantz book “Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse“, he says:
“Emotional [trauma] is harder to spot and easier to deny. But just as physical and sexual abuse have signposts to mark their presence, emotional abuse too, …. has common traits…”. “Damage can be done in a one time traumatic event… or be a consistent low level pattern over a period of time” … and that “repetition obscures the severity”.
These books of Alexandra Fullers are very much a watershed. An unpacking of what has been unresolved and an airing the family dirty washing “as is”, without making excuses, justifying or protecting anyone or anything, or laying blame either. Alexandra does an amazing job of saying it simply how she experienced it, and does not come across as bitter or angry.
And to me anyway, these books are a huge reminder that not all abuse, neglect, or trauma, is dramatic, unspeakable, Gob-smackingly terrifying, purposeful or deliberate. That it is way too often simply an outcome, a fallout, a set of terrible circumstances, or a lack of awareness, help or understanding … but that the impact is just as severe!