Book Talk: Fuller takes readers on unforgettable cocktail hour

JOHANNESBURG Thu Jun 7, 2012 5:34am EDT

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Alexandra Fuller gained a loyal following of readers with her best-selling memoir "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" about growing up in Zimbabwe during the country's civil war and, later, Zambia.

In her fourth book, Fuller returns to her roots with a work that is part memoir, part biography of her larger-than-life mother, Nicola.

"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" takes readers on a whirlwind family tour that ranges from frigid Scottish islands to tropical Kenya to her parents' fish and banana farm in Zambia - with rivers of wine of various quality consumed along the way.

Fuller, who was recently in South Africa to promote the book, spoke to Reuters by phone from her current base in Wyoming, where she has lived since 1994.

Q: What prompted you to write the book?

A: So many people have asked me this question. I'm not sure ever what prompts me to write anything. There's something deeply mysterious about how a book comes to me ... I thought I was going to write this book 10 years ago but had sort of more or less given up on the idea and then I got whooping cough a couple of years ago and it was sort of ready to be told. But I was always curious about what had made my mother how she was. And I suspected you couldn't get to my mother through ordinary channels.

Q: Your political views - and in southern Africa this is often code for your take on racial issues - are very different from your parents. Do you think this is typical of your generation in southern Africa?

A: I think our generation was the generation that started to shift. And I think our kids are the ones that are truly, God willing, free of it.

Q: You've been in Wyoming since 1994. Are you American or African now?

A: (Laughing). I can't chop myself up into little pieces ... I'm very suspicious of nationalism and I'm also very suspicious of this nostalgia where you find someone who has been off the continent for 20 years and is determinedly "African" whatever that means. Or it's infused with this sort of false romance. The real answer to be robustly honest is that I am of the world and I'm an accident of empire and geography and colonialism and war. And of course they all contribute to my sort of world view and the way that I handle the world. And I wouldn't change the way I was raised even though it was occasionally rough because I think it has made me a much more empathetic person, certainly as a writer. But I'm really not a fan of labels. I would hesitate to call myself either. And they are really inaccurate kinds of adjectives anyway. I mean, what does it mean to be African? And what does it mean to be American, because there's a huge range there.

Q: Do you ever see yourself moving back to southern Africa and maybe settling under your own tree of forgetfulness?

A: I could definitely see myself moving back to Zambia. And I think it's a when, not an if. But I'm not sure I would ever make a permanent move back because staying in one place can get a little bit calcifying as a writer. I love Wyoming ... but I truly feel alive when I'm in Zambia.

Q: What is your next book project?

A: Oh, that is such an illegal question. I think I know what it is but I've discovered if you talk about it, then the project evaporates. The muse is such a fickle, volatile creature.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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