Full Blown Fuller

I am reading fifty pages a day of Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier because I must finish it within five days and then write a commentary on it.

So it is only slightly startling, but still jarring, when I step into the cool night air to see the star-scorched sky for the first time since my arrival home and I accidentally assume that I’m in Zambia. Where are the tamarind trees? I almost wonder aloud to myself.

And it is furthermore disorienting that, while walking down a memorized path in total darkness up on the property, I run directly into a fifty-five gallon drum that sends me reeling over at the waist nearly plunging my head straight into sloshing dark waters. Rainwater splatters about my feet, soaks my pajamas, and I’m utterly convinced I’ve stumbled into the Pepani River and a crocodile is about to strike. (After some critical thinking it occurs to me that the neighbors had the barrels out to collect rainwater during the flash floods, and that I’m not in Africa I’m in North Carolina, and that mountain rainwater is very different than the Pepani River.)

All of this is to say Fuller’s prose is at once elegant and convincing. Her sentences transport, her similes transform, her experiences transcend. She can write a sentence such as: “K laughed (a smack of reflected sun caught his throat and face in profile and turned him black, like a cardboard cutout).”

That sentence is two words, one of which is a letter that stands for the name of her unidentified traveling companion (the African soldier). Two words! The parenthetical, which paints a life-sized canvas in under thirty syllables, captures Fuller’s visual insight while simultaneously building K’s character. The sentence, in effect, is a poem.

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