Out of It in Africa; Biography

Daily Mail (London), September 30, 2011 | Go to article overview

Out of It in Africa; Biography


Byline: CHRISTOPHER HUDSON

COCKTAIL HOUR UNDER THE TREE OF FORGETFULNESS

BY Alexandra Fuller (Simon & Schuster [pounds sterling]14.99 [pounds sterling]12.99)

ALEXANDRA FULLER tells us she was born into a Scottish family from the Isle of Skye, whose motto is Death Before Surrender. My wife hails from Skye as well and I read this book with a new respect for her.

The difference is for her it's just an old motto. For Alexandra Fuller and her parents, deep in the heart of Africa, it became terrifyingly true.

The author's mother, Nicola Fuller, the beautiful, volatile, courageous woman whose story is at the heart of this book, believed in putting down roots and defending them. But as Alexandra wryly tells us, in Africa that often meant killing or being killed.

I don't know why this book is so irresistible. Its narrative jumps backwards and forwards; no sooner has the author embarked on one story than it reminds her of another one.

But I beg you to persevere, because this prequel to Alexandra Fuller's bestselling Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight is one of the best accounts you will read about the white migrants in Africa at a time when the cold winds of change were blowing across the continent.

There had been Fullers in East Africa since the end of the 19th century -- anthropologists, vicars and engineers.

Forced by death duties to emigrate after World War II, Nicola's parents bought farming land in Kenya, close to the Ugandan border. There were tennis courts and a country club -- the only foe was the cobra lurking in a nearby culvert.

As a child, Nicola's best friend was a chimpanzee who was left alone to play with her in the garden. This was typical behaviour in a family of whom the author writes gaily: 'My grandmother, Mum and Auntie Glug all spent time in institutions for the mentally unhinged.'

These are Nicola's memories of her African childhood, related to us by her daughter Alexandra with a sparkling candour that leaves nothing to the imagination.

They had no time for the Happy Valley crowd, even if they had been in that league. Nicola dismissed them as cruel and silly. She recalled looking after one of their babies whose mother, 'Inky' Porter, was so sozzled with cocktails and cocaine that the infant died of seizures within a day or two.

THE first portents of what was to come were the Mau Mau uprisings in the early Fifties, when Kikuyu tribesmen in Kenya sought to regain some of their lands from the colonial rulers.

The ritual blood sacrifices, cannibalism, bestiality, torture and mutilation were withheld from Nicola -- just as they were from me, a small boy living not far away in Entebbe.

Nicola's father, like mine, went everywhere with a service revolver; her mother slept with a Beretta pistol under her pillow.

Few whites were murdered, but tens of thousands of Kikuyu were killed or imprisoned.

Many British colonials went home. But the Fullers stayed; for them Africa was home.

Nicola was briefly sent to safety in London to do a typing course and smooth out her settler accent. What she chiefly remembered of the city was the smell of boiled cabbage. …

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