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February 22 2020
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Raised in what was then Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe, in the 1970s and 80s, the best-selling author was well versed in the Out of Africa genre—“books filled with ill-behaved European settlers and their long-suffering local housekeepers,” says Fuller, whose most recent book—a tribute to her father, Tim Fuller, who moved to Africa to fight in the Rhodesian Bush War before settling as a banana farmer in Zambia, titled Travel Light, Move Fast—is out now (Penguin will publish its paperback later this year). “The grand colonial adventure dressed up as one long picnic didn’t reflect my lived experience,” she says. It wasn’t until her late teens that she discovered those books that expose the settler experience from the perspective of the colonized; here, Fuller recommends a few.

The African Trilogy and A Man of the People, by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s groundbreaking novels—from his African Trilogy (Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease) to A Man of the People—were some of the first of this new genre that I read, and they riveted me. Achebe was Nigerian, not Zimbabwean, but I recognized in his pages what white writers were omitting in their work: the brutality of the colonial experience. “The white man is very clever,” Achebe writes in Things Fall Apart. “He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga

In 1988, when Tsitsi Dangarembga’s acclaimed debut novel came out, I was living in a women’s youth hostel in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was a depressing time; I read and re-read this novel as if my life depended on it, which it did, if life is who you are and what you do with the possibilities available to you. Nervous Conditions made clear that systemic racism and sexism—the conditions of my childhood, in fact—were not accidents, but rather arrangements, structures that had been built to support an unsupportable way of life. “It’s bad enough,” Dangarembga writes, “when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end.”

Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje

Fast-forward a decade: I was trying to write my own first book, a memoir, but there wasn’t a template anywhere I could find for how to write about people whom you love—your family, for example—but who behave reprehensibly. Then Michael Ondaatje’s memoir landed in my life. Running in the Family is a masterpiece of humorous restraint. Ondaatje set me free to tell my own story over and over, from this perspective and then from that: “No story is ever told just once,” he writes. I wrote my story five times over, and feel there’s still more to say.

Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, No Longer at Ease, A Man of the People, Nervous Conditions, and Running in the Family are available at your local independent bookstore or on Amazon

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