This is the story of a white, poor farming family in colonial Africa as independence comes to the native populations in the 1970-80s. It is one strange story, told from the view of a young girl as she grows up in Rhodesia, Malawi and finally Zambia. The author, Alexandra Fuller, gives a searingly honest accounting of her family history. Her parents clearly racist (“...if only one country could have remained under white rule things would have been so much better.”) are dysfunctional in many ways. Her mother, later diagnosed as bipolar, is a barely functioning alcoholic; her father, while humorous and certainly the more present parent is also alcoholic. Their neglect is hard to read about and even harder to understand.
What does come through loud and strong in this story is the difficulty of the life they lead. Malaria, mosquitoes, too many leopards to count, the death of three of the authors siblings are all recounted in a matter of fact way that speaks to the everyday hardships that are faced in Central Africa. To illustrate how different the author’s childhood was think on this one - at the age of nine years old she was taught how to clean, load and shoot an Uzi machine gun during the colonial war in Rhodesia.
One wonders why this family would continue in this harsh land and I think the author gives some clues to this in the story. She clearly considers Africa her home, her descriptions of the land its flora and fauna are vivid and captivating.
I had very mixed feelings about this book, I think in many cases you won’t like what you are reading. The author’s honesty delivers an unflattering portrait of a very dysfunctional family, but the author’s love for her family, her gentle acceptance of her parent’s alcoholism and neglect are oddly affecting. Her matter-of-fact recounting of the horrors of the colonial wars seen through a child’s eyes is memorable. Her choice not to re-write her family history, to be so honest and truthful, makes this unsentimental story one worth reading.
I listened to this story as an audio book and thought the reader, Lisette Lecat, did an excellent job. She was able to differentiate the author’s voice from childhood through to a young adult.