A death haunted life and land  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

Alexandra Fuller grew up in Africa, in Rhodesia until that nation’s savage civil war forced most white families to flee the land that was renamed Zimbabwe. Years later she returns to travel from Zambia, where her hardscrabble parents still live, across Zimbabwe into Mozambique with K, a soldier who had fought in the bush in Rhodesia’s army. He is half-mad from his memories, by the atrocities perpetrated by both sides, and by the unspeakable loss inflicted not only on his soul but on the blood-soaked land and its displaced, poverty-stricken tribal peoples.


Fuller’s book, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier (Penguin, 2004) is a memoir of a shared humanity and great poignancy, of tragedy and loyalty, of God’s presence in lives haunted by demons.


“And this,” said K as he stepped into the roofless house, “is where we’ll live one day. I’ll finish building it soon. I have to get the farm going a bit more first, though. But what do you think?”


I wondered who “we” was, but I didn’t ask. Instead I said, “It’s lovely.”


“Look,” said K, “it’s all set up for books. Shelves here, and here. Maybe you could put ornaments on this shelf. This is the kitchen. See? A view of the mountain out the window.” He turned to me and I can describe the look on his face only as transported. “I don’t think,” he said, “that God is going to have me make this journey alone. He will send me a woman when the time is right.”


A blue-headed lizard scampered up the wall where the larder shelves would be one day and one of the dogs darted after it, barely catching the end of its tail, which sloughed off and wiggled hysterically on the cement-dusted floor.


“She’ll have to be a very special woman,” said K, softly and looking at me.


“Yes,” I said.


And then, maybe it was a trick of the rain-softened light, but I saw K’s face fold with such exquisite torment that my heart turned over for him.


He said, “There’s been so much destruction. But I’ve learned so much now. I’ve really learned about love.” K’s lips grew fleshy. “I would nurture a woman. She would be the head of the family now. I wouldn’t have to dominate her. I would put everyone else first. I would come last in the family. This is the order: first God, then my wife, then my children, the dogs, the servants… I would be last. I just want to share this”—he gestured to the house, the garden, the slow-churning river—“with someone.”


I looked away from the house and saw that three fishermen had paddled their canoes around the bend in the river. The evening had brought a kind of careless, extravagant beauty to the world. The sky was rinsed various shades of blue and pink and was scattered with ripped, high clouds. The sun, catching, itself in the trees on the far bank, bled red and gold across the water. Peace Mountain and the distant escarpment were softened in a dying light. From the village opposite K’s farm, blue clouds of smoke from cooking fires tugged into the evening sky. It was the time of day when the confusion of color, the churn of cooler air supplanting the heat of the day, the miracle of the journeying river—everything about being alive—seemed more improbable and fleeting and precious than usual. [pp. 62-63]


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A poignant and sad book about visiting the demons in ones past. Still, I have hope that it does not always have to mean scribbling the cat.

July 3, 2009 at 9:07 AM

That is the hope, isn't it? Otherwise it would be too much to bear.

July 3, 2009 at 9:25 AM

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