Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
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"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" Summary

By Alexandra Fuller

memoir | 256 pages | Published in NaN

In this sequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller returns to Africa and the story of her unforgettable family. In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley-era Africa of her mother's childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father's English childhood; and the darker, civil war-torn Africa of her own childhood. At its heart, this is the story of Fuller's mother, Nicola. Born on the Scottish Isle of Skye and raised in Kenya, Nicola holds dear the kinds of values most likely to get you hurt or killed in Africa: loyalty to blood, passion for land, and a holy belief in the restorative power of all animals. Fuller interviewed her mother at length and has captured her inimitable voice with remarkable precision. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is as funny, terrifying, exotic, and unselfconscious as Nicola herself. We see Nicola and Tim Fuller in their lavender-colored honeymoon period, when East Africa lies before them with all the promise of its liquid equatorial light, even as the British Empire in which they both believe wanes. But in short order, an accumulation of mishaps and tragedies bump up against history until the couple finds themselves in a world they hardly recognize. We follow the Fullers as they hopscotch the continent, running from war and unspeakable heartbreak, from Kenya to Rhodesia to Zambia, even returning to England briefly. But just when it seems that Nicola has been broken entirely by Africa, it is the African earth itself that revives her. A story of survival and madness, love and war, loyalty and forgiveness, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an intimate exploration of the author's family. In the end, we find Nicola and Tim at a coffee table under their Tree of Forgetfulness on the banana and fish farm where they plan to spend their final days. In local custom, the Tree of Forgetfulness is where villagers meet to resolve disputes and it is here that the Fullers at last find an African kind of peace. Following the ghosts and dreams of memory, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is Alexandra Fuller at her very best.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A memoir that explores the tumultuous life of Alexandra Fuller's parents and their experiences in war-torn Africa.


"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" is a memoir written by Alexandra Fuller. This captivating and poignant book explores Fuller's complex and tumultuous family history in southern Africa. Through vivid storytelling, Fuller delves into her parents' lives and their experiences in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Zambia, offering readers a glimpse into a world of adventure, resilience, and the enduring power of family bonds.

Brief Synopsis

The book is set against the backdrop of southern Africa during the mid-20th century. Alexandra Fuller's parents, Nicola and Tim Fuller, were British expatriates who moved to Rhodesia in the 1940s. Nicola, a fiercely independent and unconventional woman, and Tim, a larger-than-life character, embarked on a life of farming and adventure in this politically turbulent region.

The memoir weaves together Alexandra's personal memories with family history, taking readers on a journey that spans generations. From her parents' early courtship and marriage to their struggles through war, political upheaval, and personal tragedies, the book reveals the indomitable spirit of the Fuller family.

Main Characters

Here are the main characters in "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness":

Nicola FullerAlexandra's mother, a resilient and adventurous woman
Tim FullerAlexandra's father, a larger-than-life character with a love for farming and Africa
Alexandra FullerThe author and narrator, who shares her family's story with honesty and humor
Van FullerAlexandra's older sister, who has her own unique perspective on their family's history
Other family members and friendsVarious individuals who play significant roles in the Fuller family's journey

Summary of Different Story Points

Chapter 1: Childhood Memories

The book begins with Alexandra's memories of her childhood in Rhodesia, highlighting her parents' unconventional lifestyle and their deep connection to the land. She describes the idyllic moments spent under the tree of forgetfulness, a symbol of her parents' ability to find joy and solace amidst the challenges they faced.

Chapter 2: Nicola's Early Life

This chapter delves into Nicola's early life, providing insights into her upbringing and her passionate spirit. The narrative explores her romantic relationship with Tim and their decision to move to Africa, driven by a longing for adventure and a desire to escape the constraints of their British backgrounds.

Chapter 3: Life on the Farm

Alexandra vividly recounts her family's experiences on their farm in Rhodesia. She portrays the challenges they faced in establishing a successful farming operation, including encounters with dangerous wildlife and the ever-present threat of political unrest. This chapter also touches on the impact of the Rhodesian Bush War on the Fuller family.

Chapter 4: Zambia and Loss

As political tensions escalate in Rhodesia, the Fuller family decides to relocate to Zambia. However, tragedy strikes when Alexandra's younger sister, Olivia, dies at a young age. The chapter explores the profound impact of this loss on the family dynamics and their ability to cope with grief.

Chapter 5: Return to Rhodesia

Nicola and Tim's unwavering love for Africa leads them back to Rhodesia, despite the escalating civil war. They face the challenges of war firsthand, with their farm becoming a target for guerrilla attacks. The chapter also delves into their evolving relationship and the strain that years of hardship have put on their marriage.

Chapter 6: Reflections on Identity

In this chapter, Alexandra reflects on her own identity as a white African and the complexities of belonging to a place that is both home and filled with conflict. She explores the impact of colonization and the struggles faced by the African people, offering a nuanced perspective on the region's history.

Main Events

Throughout "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness," several main events shape the narrative:

  1. Nicola and Tim's move to Rhodesia and their early years as farmers.
  2. The family's relocation to Zambia and the tragic loss of Olivia.
  3. The return to Rhodesia and the challenges of living through the civil war.
  4. Alexandra's reflections on her identity and the legacy of colonization in Africa.

Themes and Insights

"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" explores several themes and offers insightful perspectives on various aspects of life:

  1. Family and Resilience: The memoir emphasizes the deep bonds within the Fuller family and their unwavering resilience in the face of adversity.
  2. Identity and Belonging: Alexandra grapples with her own identity as a white African and reflects on the complexities of belonging to a place with a troubled history.
  3. History and Legacy: The book offers a historical lens through which readers can better understand the impact of colonization and political turmoil in southern Africa.
  4. Love and Loss: The Fuller family's experiences highlight the profound impact of love and the enduring pain of loss.

Reader's Takeaway

"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness" is a powerful memoir that immerses readers in the vibrant and tumultuous world of southern Africa. Through Alexandra Fuller's engaging storytelling, readers gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of family, identity, and the enduring power of love. This book serves as a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of cherishing the bonds that connect us.


In "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness," Alexandra Fuller paints a vivid portrait of her family's journey through southern Africa. From the challenges of farming in war-torn Rhodesia to the loss and resilience experienced in Zambia, Fuller's memoir offers readers a captivating exploration of love, loss, and the enduring power of family ties. Through her thoughtful and evocative storytelling, Fuller provides a unique perspective on the history and legacy of southern Africa, leaving readers with a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the region and the strength of the human spirit.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness FAQ

  1. What is 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' about?

    This book is a memoir by Alexandra Fuller, exploring her family history and the tumultuous life of her mother, Nicola Fuller.

  2. Is 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' a sequel to another book?

    Yes, it is a companion book to 'Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight', where Alexandra Fuller first delves into her family's experiences in colonial Rhodesia and post-independence Zimbabwe.

  3. What themes does 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' explore?

    The book explores themes of family, identity, resilience, and the impact of colonialism and political unrest in Africa.

  4. Is this book suitable for all ages?

    While the book does contain some mature content and references to violence, it can be enjoyed by mature readers of various ages.

  5. Can I read 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' without reading the previous book?

    Yes, the book can be read as a standalone. However, reading 'Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight' can provide additional context and depth to the story.

  6. Does the book provide historical context about Rhodesia and Zimbabwe?

    Yes, Alexandra Fuller weaves historical and political context throughout the narrative, giving readers an understanding of the socio-political climate during that time.

  7. What is the writing style of 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness'?

    The book is written in a lyrical and engaging style, blending personal anecdotes with historical facts, creating a vivid and immersive reading experience.

  8. Is this book suitable for someone interested in African history and culture?

    Absolutely! 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' offers insights into African history, culture, and the personal experiences of the author's family.

  9. Does the book focus solely on the author's mother?

    While the book primarily revolves around the life of the author's mother, it also sheds light on the author's own experiences and their family dynamics.

  10. Is 'Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness' a heartbreaking or uplifting read?

    The book encompasses both heartbreaking and uplifting moments, capturing the complexity of human experiences and the resilience of the human spirit.