Sunday, 1 March 2015

Leaving Before The Rains Come

I don’t often get to listen to Radio 4's Book of the Week because of work but I took leave a couple of weeks ago which happily coincided with some bright sunshine and the serialisation of Alexandra Fuller’s new memoir Leaving Before The Rains Come. You may remember the first memoir of her African childhood Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and the second volume Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness in which Fuller is unsentimental about coming of age in a family of white settlers in war-torn Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the seventies.  This book examines what happens after she met Charlie, an American running a safari company in Zambia.

Leaving Before the Rains Come is like catching up with old friends - Bobo (Alexandra) her sister Van (face-of-the-eighties), their mother (Nicola Fuller of Central Africa), stoical father Tim and mildly stoned cook, Adamson, are all here.  Fuller is brilliant at conveying the beauty and stupefying heat of the landscape.  Living with Charlie and their first baby, Sarah, in a cottage on the banks of the Zambezi river she has to purchase a 'wearable mosquito net cloud' and nurse the baby under it because of an outbreak of yellow fever.  When the heat becomes unbearable in February she moves the bed out onto the veranda:
And, lying under the mosquito net with my child and my husband next to me, listening to the shouting hippos, the pulsing night insects, the shrieking bush babies, I fell deeply back in love with the land of my childhood.
 It is when they decide to move to Wyoming, that illness, debt, pressures of work and an accident take their toll on the marriage and Fuller struggles to reconcile her hardy South African self with risk-averse American middle-class life.  However, the memoir really gets into its stride during her Wyoming years and Charlie's family are charming with an intriguing history. 

In an interview Louise Erdrich once said ‘To be mixed blood is a great gift for a writer. I have one foot on tribal lands and one foot in middle-class life.'  Fuller's conflict has made for a poignant and highly-readable memoir.


Bellezza said...

It took me awhile to place this book, that I had heard of it before; in fact, I was asked to review it by Penguin, but I declined. The reason I didn't recognize it immediately was the cover! Isn't that a superficial thing to say? Yet the cover on the top of your post looks like an American romance/western type of book, rather than an introspective journey from what I gather is a fairly brave woman.

I wish I could listen to the BBC. I wish, many times, that I lived in England where books and bookish things seem to be of a much higher quality and better access than in America. I can't even order books for my Kindle from Amazon UK! Well, sorry for the pity party. I am happy for you. :)

A Bookish Way of Life said...

I just saw this book reviewed in my copy of Vogue. Sounds like its part of an interesting trio of memoirs. Her life sounds fascinating and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to try and settle into life in the US after growing up in Africa. I have to admit that I agree with Bellezza regarding the cover. If I hadn't read the review in Vogue or your review, I never would have given this book a second look. Book covers really do reel me in and this one wouldn't have otherwise. Great post!

Kat said...

This book has gotten great reviews. I have never read Fuller, though I've certainly heard of her, and your recommendation will spur me on to read her.

Anbolyn said...

I agree with the others who've said the cover put them off - it's really not very enticing. But your review is! I love any books that take place/ are set in the Western US - they seem few and far between these days. Almost every contemporary novel I pick up lately is set in NYC. Do I have to read her other memoirs to enjoy this one?

Sunday Taylor said...

I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed this. I heard her speak and got a signed copy of her book but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Though I did read her earlier memoir. She was such an entertaining speaker, so funny, she had us laughing for almost an hour!

Nomey said...

I finished reading this just this morning. I love her writing, and her honesty. I've never been to Africa, but it does seem to take a terrific hold of people even though in many cases - as in Fuller's family - an awful lot of grief can come with the decision to live there.

Peggy Ann said...

Sounds good, Nicola. And Bellezza you can listen to the BBC Radio from anywhere online here is the link. I listen all the time!

Amy said...

I read and enjoyed her first two memoirs. This one sounds promising too. Thanks for the review!

Cathy Daniel said...

I love the title and the cover and everything you have written about this book, so am putting it on my list, but I'd better start with the first one to get the full story. xCathy

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Bellezza, nothing wrong with liking your book covers to be aesthetically pleasing, I do, too! Yes, we are lucky to have Radio 4 in the UK. A very literary radio station!

Nadia, yes I like good covers, too. Interesting that you read about it in Vogue. It's well worth a read.

Kat, do review it if you read it, I would be interested in your take on it.

Ambolyn, this book will stand alone, but its well worth reading the backstory, hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, oh you are so lucky to have heard Alexandra Fuller speak. I don't think she did many dates in the UK. I love author events.

Nomey, yes, the country seems to exert a powerful hold. Have you read The Poisonwood Bible? Wonderful novel about Africa.

Peggy Ann, I love Radio 4, too. I don't think Women's Hour is as literary as it used to be now - it's got very political - I preferred the old days!

Amy, do review it if you read it!

Cathy, I think you would like this book, hope you have the time to read it!