Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SCRIBBLING THE CAT by Alexandra Fuller Kirkus Star


Travels with an African Soldier

by Alexandra Fuller

Pub Date: May 10th, 2004
ISBN: 1-59420-016-5
Publisher: Penguin Press

The author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (2002) takes a demon-haunted tour of Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the company of an ex-soldier who fought with the Rhodesian Light Infantry.

Visiting her parents in Zambia, Fuller meets K, a white African banana farmer and a veteran of the Rhodesian War. She finds him both “terrifying and unattractive”—he radiates a sense of violence and unpredictability—but also fascinating for the ghosts he harbors. K’s born-again Christianity temporarily keeps the specters at bay, but they will slowly be released as he and the author return to the scenes of his wartime experiences. “I don’t think we have all the words in a single vocabulary to explain what we are or why we are,” writes Fuller, who knows she will be capturing only one facet of K—and not a pretty one. Seen through encounters with his comrades-in-arms, K is obviously capable of the acts of terror he committed during the war. Yet he’s also capable of reflecting on the crushing death of his young son: “All those people I destroyed, all those lives. . . . The Almighty was showing me what it was like to lose a child.” As we tumble through K’s profound misery, we ride through an equally dismal Zimbabwean landscape; Fuller is adept at painting each. Zimbabwe is deeply unromantic, a place of labor, strain, and toil in which the marginalized must be endlessly resourceful simply to survive; life expectancy is 35 years, and randomly dispersed landmines, a handful for each citizen, remain a threat. Fuller learns more than she wants to know about the brutal, indefensible war, about what happens when you give a man an attitude and a gun, and about her own willingness to lead K on to get at a story.

A worried, restless, and haunted piece of work, tattooed and scarred from beginning to end.