Unbelievable! I can't recall the last time I finished two books in two weeks, much less substantive, weighty ones. I suppose doing so requires a four day there-and-back international trip alone to get started. Sheesh. In any case, what a pleasure, what an almost-forgotten joy, to immerse myself in works that made me want to trade sleep for a few more pages. The first was Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Isn't that a hell of a title?! I first came across Fuller when I read Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight many years ago. Both are about her family (mom and dad are from Scotland and England but have lived in Central Africa for most of their lives) and her childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), both are quite painful at times regarding family dysfunction and tragedy, and both are both extremely well-written.
I spent three incredible weeks in Kenya in 2001, then and since feeling the tug of connection to Africa that many seem to but which is difficult to articulate without sounding overly romantic and thus implausible and/or condescending in a way that (most of the time I think) isn't purposeful but reflects a lack of cultural understanding (i.e. smiles don't always signify happiness) and a rather superficial experience of being.in.Africa. I was fortunate enough to travel with a friend who was in Peace Corps there, so while we did the requisite (and magnificent) safaris, we also traveled on buses so packed over roads so riddled with potholes (more like poolholes) that all you could do was go with it and hope. We didn't stay at a remove from really being there, and I can hardly imagine having such an amazing travel experience again. It felt authentic in the ways that the connective tissue that language facility and real knowledge of a place provide.
In any case, I left Africa with a powerful desire to return and also with an almost complete inability to truly describe why I was so besotted with it. It became wholly understandable why accounts of African travel often list towards the idyllic, and since, I have been impressed with writers whose stories of Africa appear balanced. Fuller does this, and Rhodesia during the years she lived there is such an interesting context: wealthy white farmers propped up by the British government on land that's not really theirs, civil war, the country being renamed Zimbabwe, Mugabe coming to power. Fuller's parents loved Africa with a passion (they now live and farm in Zambia), but you also see how much they lost there as well.
I thought the book's last chapter or two weren't as strong as the rest of the book, but nonetheless I quite enjoyed and would recommend it.
The second book was Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, which I just finished last night. Wow! More on that next as I'm off to the farmers market now!