Book Review

"Leaving Before the Rains Come" by Alexandra Fuller.

Reviewed by Anne Montgomery.

For those who have read her first book, "Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs tonight", this sequel will be returning, in part to familiar territory. The farm in Zambia, her indomitable parents, and her elder, but totally unlike, sister. This book also encompasses glimpses of life in erstwhile Colonial Africa today, the author’s grandparents in Scotland and England, her family traits and heritage, and living in the American mid-west.

She meets Charlie Ross, the love of her life, an American running African river safaris, and marries him, convinced he is the rock of normality she has never had. Instead of staying on in Africa, Charlie takes her and their baby daughter to Wyoming, which despite some English schooling and a Canadian University, is a bridge very far from being conditioned to cope with the normalities of life in the bush. Drought, floods, malaria and other pests and diseases, AK toting, drunken Zambian Army soldiers, and a semi-permanently stoned African cook.

It is a devastatingly honest account of the author’s efforts to adjust to an alien lifestyle, the necessity for her to have to earn seemingly enormous amounts of money, the many publishers’ rejections of novels, until she decided to write the truth instead, resulting in the runaway success of her first autobiography. She writes more books, articles, gives talks, finding with the last, that people are uneasy with the truth when told the reality of Africa, unwilling to believe there is anything beyond their accepted norms, their belief in the tourist’s view of a glamorous destination, untroubled by political and other realities.

It is also the desperately sad story of the slow, almost inexorable breakdown of the marriage between two people who, one thinks, should have been a success story, but were in fact from two worlds, too far apart, and too dissimilar. Charlie is from an old blue-blooded Philadelphia family, she from an admittedly aristocratic English background, but who had a Colonial, unusually rackety upbringing, with more than it’s fair share of tragedies, war and disasters. It is a beautifully written and very moving memoir, leaving one with the wish it could all have ended differently, but also the understanding of how insuperable can be the obstacles of changing from an albeit tough, "uncivilised" but unfettered life, to a conventional, Western society.

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