I’ve enjoyed all of Fuller’s memoirs of her family’s life in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi due to my own stay in Malawi and visit to Zimbabwe. Her Colonial with a capital “C” mother, her wild father, disowned by his British family, are the sort of people I tend to love–their belief in Rhodesia and all it stood for aside. She has become a “must-read” author for me.
Zambia–where the family now lives
Having had a childhood lived in unusual circumstances marks a person, but having such a childhood and having it in the middle of a war, can do real damage. Fuller’s growing up could be called Glass Castle meets Out of Africa. Part abuse, part wild ride, part fantastic adventure. In this installment of her family memoirs, she begins in Budapest with her father’s death while there on holiday. This time the author is narrating the audio version and she voices her mother EXACTLY the way I imagined her, which was very exciting for me.
Having very seriously contemplated staying on in Malawi, I always find the daily life parts of her memoirs to be the best and that continued in this volume. That the author is only about 7 years younger than me makes it all the more relatable. But this time the cracks are showing. The end of Dad is too much–and for the author, there is more in store after that [no spoilers].
Her eccentric parents, who “survive magnificently,” have aged and their daughters, “squaddies [i.e. G.I.s/soldiers] before they were sisters” are in their 50s and time has not helped the wounds of their childhood. The mother whose leaving the house checklist once went something like “Uzi, bullets, lipstick, sunglasses” is still her indomitable Memsiab self, surrounded by her beloved troop of dogs and cats, and after 50+ years of marriage, she and her husband still “do not bore each other” and still do not try to possess each other.
I adore her parents in spite of it all, in spite of a war to keep Africans from ruling their own country. They are backbone of the Empire sorts who let nothing defeat them. These are not the stuffy folks who inhabit the Cricket and Tennis Club, or who run the local Anglican Church and hold the Gymkhanas. These are the real settlers. Give them land, sufficient booze, dogs, books, and an old Land Rover and they will survive. The booze is the key. And cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes–or those “anti-mad” pills Mum gets from the Indian chemist. It IS a rough life.
Her mother with her books and animals has transformed herself time and again and is now a very successful fish farmer, having educated herself for her new role. She may have lost the war, but she’s won the battle–the family survived. Her very Mitford U-ish speech adds to the whole picture of one who can “Keep Buggering On” as Churchill said, quite beautifully even in a war, even after burying three babies. In this book, even she has reached her limit. I could completely relate to her rant about being sick of people telling her she’s strong and that she’d love to just fall apart.
The author’s father, who can hunt from a moving Land Rover, probably could still have played a rugby match at 70, and like any good Colonial Bwana could drink everyone under the table, could also live on beans on toast, alcohol, and tobacco. Like my own father, I’m sure Tim Fuller could have taken the Lord’s name in vain as any figure of speech. (They also saw eye-to-eye on missionaries). He could light a cigarette, fire an Uzi, and keep driving the Land Rover even with a hunting guide on the roof. That’s a manly man. He loved his wife, his family, and his life. [He also loathed “online f—ing banking” to which I say “hear, hear” especially on the passwords.]
It is the sisters though who are doing the worst. Vanessa has been in a clinic in South Africa, both are divorced, Vanessa is remarried, and the author is in a new relationship. No one in the family is at all happy about the books–and, honestly? Who can blame them? While I have loved reading them, I can see it from their side: Why are you telling our secrets? Why is it all reduced to your perspective, your way of seeing it? The fissures are deep and will rend the family with Dad’s passing.
The author, though, became whining somewhere along the way. [No spoilers but I am NOT disregarding something I cannot reveal without spoiling part of the book–ok?] The end of the book was a lot New Agey, naval gaze-y, word salad-ish moaning. [Tiny spoiler] That her new relationship wasn’t going to be the love of the ages was about as obvious as Meghan’s “love” for poor, dim Harry. That one she needed to walk it off–follow her Dad’s advice and have a party. Alcohol, her parents believe, lets one suffer successfully. She should have done that and had a splendid and necessary hangover, then reloaded and got back in the war of life.
I found the end of the book [in spite of what I won’t spoil] annoying. It bordered on minor-league narcissism–“Me, me, me–my, my, my–mine, mine, mine]. A girl raised to be a stalwart Rhodesian, able to take what life sends you for Queen and Empire (well, Commonwealth) or just because you won’t take it off any bastard, shouldn’t have grown into such a whiner. It almost spoils the excellence of her writing. I’m very much like her parents when it comes to freaking out over everything. I’d have had to tell her to get over herself and carry on! I wanted to say, “Look, the did the correct first aid, loaded all the guns, loaded you into that station wagon and drove you through a war to the hospital–remember? They CARED.”
The author’s falling apart and her self-absorption [part of which WAS 100% understandable — no spoilers] and the family’s dislike of her books, brings to mind Madeline L’Engle’s Crosswicks Diaries. L’Engle’s children dismissed them as “fiction.” I don’t think that is the case here, but I could see the annoyance so clearly, and equally clearly hear the author’s belief that she was right and saw things right. That was a bit hard to take.
Now? Who’s for a cup of tea and who’s for a g & t? In spite of my feelings on the end, this book is a good read. Need an ashtray? Here–have a dog, or would you prefer a cat?
I couldn’t give it a full 4 stars due to the whiney parts.
Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller.
Alexandra Fuller’s previous books that I have read: