two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0

Travels With an African Soldier

A-ScribblingCatFuller, a child during the Rhodesian War in what is now Zimbabwe, cheered for white soldiers as they went off to slaughter blacks. In this memoir, the adult Fuller recounts the story of one soldier—K, a born-again Christian coming to terms with his wartime deeds. She meets him on a visit to her parents’ home in Zambia. They then travel to Mozambique, the site of the war’s worst fighting. Fuller gets what she hopes for—a detailed account of K’s most violent and disturbing memories. But her complex relationship with the aging fighter also brings a burden of guilt that Fuller must ultimately share.
Penguin. 256 pages. $24.95.
ISBN: 1594200165

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Fuller’s] rich and distinct dialect resonates from the first page of this book, as does the hardship of the African people. … As much as Scribbling the Cat focuses on K and Fuller, the importance of this book lies in the messages it delivers about the evils of war." Karen Algeo Krizman

Kansas City Star 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fuller’s memoir bleeds with the longing of one who is uncertain where she belongs, as if she is condemned to an unholy limbo where sins of the past go unreconciled and hopes for the present are unattainable. … Fully fleshed characters, some crustier than others, delight, amaze and intrigue." Marty McCarty

San Diego Union-Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"[Fuller] is a master at showing both the beautiful and ugly sides of African life in a way that makes one yearn for a taste of life on the continent—and terribly afraid to go. This ability to change perspective and see all the many shades of gray of a conflict is both a strength and a weakness of Scribbling the Cat, which is long on gorgeous descriptions of places and events, but short on conclusions." Rachel Laing

San Francisco Chronicle 1.5 of 5 Stars
"… Fuller seems too ready to accept atrocity as the true, authentic face of Africa. This is a subtext to her laborious renderings of K’s endless self-justifications and her acceptance of K as he is—warts and all—lends a whiff of something distinctly unpleasant to the book itself." Martin Rubin

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"It is one of Fuller’s great assets that she does not soften or shy away from the unseemly or the uncomfortable or the self-incriminating. … But in at least one instance, she greatly exaggerates her own complicity in an ostensible attempt to draw parallels between herself and her subject." Adam Fifield

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"[Fuller]’s strikingly incurious about any questions that might really challenge her settled view of herself. However wild the trip, she winds up more or less where she started." Laura Miller

Critical Summary

Author of the highly acclaimed memoir Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight, Fuller has developed a masterful prose style; the Kansas City Star calls her "powerful as a lion on the move." But lions aren’t known for their self-reflection, and this is where Scribbling the Cat runs into trouble. Fuller willingly accepts her share of K’s guilt. However, she doesn’t truly change her view of herself, her people, or her homeland. And she leaves the reader with some troubling questions—why, for instance, did she leave her family to travel with the unpredictable K? Some critics praise Fuller for her refusal to offer pat conclusions. However, many find this refusal maddening, even irresponsible. For a hair-raising tour of Africa, there’s no better guide than Fuller. Just don’t expect many answers.