Alexandra Fuller had one hell of a childhood growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Zaire and even a couple of years in Malawi. Her family came from Britain originally, but the family viewed themselves as African. White African. Thus bringing with them all sorts of proper manners and plenty of prejudices. She grew up during the Zimbabwe’s civil war for independence.
The book opens with this conversation that took place with her mother when Fuller was about six:
Mum says, “Don’t come creeping into our room at night.”
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, “Don’t startle us when we’re sleeping.”
“We might shoot you.”
“Okay.” As it is, there seems a good enough chance of getting shot on purpose. “Okay I won’t.”
Fuller, known as Bobo as a child, was born in England after her brother dies of meningitis in Rhodesia. Her parents don’t last long in the cold and wet of England and return to Rhodesia a few years later. Bobo is privileged because she is white, but that doesn’t mean that her family’s life is easy. Rather it means that the family’s life is less hard than black Africans. The Fullers are subsistence farmers, scratching out a living growing tobacco, or later, tracking cattle on an abandoned ranch.
Fuller loves the places of her childhood, although they certainly are fraught with dangers: war, scorpions, snakes, dirty drinking water and disease. Her mother is an alcoholic and the loss of two more children pushes her into a nervous breakdown. Despite her illness, Fuller’s mother is funny and warm, with a soft spot for animals from dogs to an injured owl.
Fuller openly writes about her family’s racism. As a child she said the same racist things she heard from the adults. Her father and mother fought on behalf of the white minority government that finally lost in 1980. The family loses its farm, but they don’t flee the country. They take on dry ranch land, where Fuller’s father rounds up feral cattle. After her mother loses her third child, the family moves to Malawi, farming for the President for Life. Thereafter they move to Zambia to farm yet another property.
Fuller’s is a story of survival. Her family; despite their many troubles, support one another. They are strong people who find humor in their strange circumstances. For example, in Malawi, a servant is a spy. Bobo’s father builds a “palace” at the lake, which the spy reports as a misuse of government funds. When the officials come to check it out, they find nothing more than a shed, which they describe as suitable for goats. Score one for Richard.
Fuller’s is a love story, a love of Africa and love of family, particularly of her mother. It is a beautiful book.