Leaving Before the Rains Come
Penguin Press 2014
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“It’s where we are that really counts. “
Alexandra Fuller says she writes “because the urge to do so collected the fuel of much left unsaid, and sparked onto the page almost unbidden.” That’s an apt description for her new suspense-laden memoir, “Leaving Before the Rains Come,” which juxtaposes Fuller’s surreal and dangerous early life in South Africa with later challenges she faced living in Wyoming.
Her recollections are interwoven with the unraveling of her marriage to Charlie Ross, who she met in Zambia where he was a river guide, both sharing a mutual love for horses. She was smitten with Ross’ prowess, especially his ability to face a charging elephant. At the same time, he accepted her family with all their seeming weirdness. But increasingly tighter government restrictions on African adventure tours prompted Fuller and Ross, then with a newborn child, to relocate to Idaho and later to Wyoming.
She recounts her parents’ preference for life in South Africa over Great Britain, the focus of her earlier biography, “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.” The Fullers stoically accepted hardships and tragedies, including the drowning of Fuller’s younger sister, an accident for which Fuller blames herself, loss of their farm, malaria, animal attacks and the Rhodesian Bush wars. The family moved around Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Malawi and Zambia. Fuller also doesn’t hold back as she discusses her mother’s mental illness.
But after a couple of decades of marriage and three children, she seeks divorce. Fuller discovers Ross’s family similarly also overcame hardships, but that was not enough to salvage the marriage. She could not be what Ross wanted, a “fixed and dependable person” who would be unchallenged and calm. The couple was in major debt, and she had been ignorant of the family finances. She wanted her own distinctive life as an environmental activist and, after the rejection of up to ten novels, she was now a published author.
Surprisingly, she writes very little about her children, or her role as a mother. Her memoir is primarily about her journey from African to American. Asked if she still considers herself an African, she responds, “Not anymore. Not Especially.” The starting point in life, she writes, is not the defining point. “It’s where we are that really counts.”
Reviewer: Kate Padilla