Ten years ago, Zimbabwean expat Alexandra Fuller burst onto the literary scene with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, a memoir about growing up the child of white settlers in the former Rhodesia. This month Fuller, 42, who now lives in Wyoming, publishes a sequel, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Penguin Press, $25.95). We caught up with her as the book went to press.
Your most recent book, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, was set in Wyoming. Now you’re returning to Africa. What brought you back?
My mum was furious when Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight was published. I thought it was a love story about Africa and my mother. She did not. What hurt her were the reviews that depicted us as nothing but a hardscrabble, poverty-stricken family. None of them mentioned how well-bred the family was. My mother is like George W. Bush when it comes to family politics: you’re either with her or against her. Having decided I was against her, she imposed sanctions. She wouldn’t pick up the phone for months.
In Cocktail Hour, she can’t even say the title. She calls it “that awful book.”
After Dogs came out, she said, “You don’t know a thing about me.” So I decided to find out. We met in Scotland. I taped hours and hours of interviews.
Cocktail Hour is a memoir of your mother’s life told through your eyes. She’s an incredible survivor, kind of the last of the British stiff-upper-lippers.
If you choose to make Africa your home, then you’d bloody well better have a stiff upper lip. The culture of Central Africa doesn’t tolerate wallowing in grief. My mother lost three of her five children, but there were people around her who lost five.
She and your father are now living on a farm in Zambia?
Yes. Whenever I call, there are elephants in the bananas or a crocodile has eaten one of the sheep. The drama never ceases.