Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Leaving before the Rains Come' Is Africa Native Alexandra Fuller's Captivating Third Memoir

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Leaving before the Rains Come' Is Africa Native Alexandra Fuller's Captivating Third Memoir

Article excerpt

No one captures forces of nature - human and otherwise - with the wry insight of British author Alexandra Fuller. In 2001, her spellbinding memoir "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" chronicled her tumultuous African childhood amid beauty, danger and outrageously colorful characters. Now, she reveals more personal history in her smashing follow-up memoir Leaving Before the Rains Come and explores the costs of escaping in a bid to keep the world's chaos at bay.

"I did not know," she writes, "that for the things that unhorse you, for the things that wreck you, for the things that toy with your internal tide - against those things, there is no conventional guard." But she will learn.

A British expatriate raised mainly in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Zambia in the 1970s and 1980s, Fuller grows up amid untamed creatures, including - and especially - her relatives. Her father, mother and sister are full of flinty eccentricity and sky-high tolerance for risk and chaos.

Readers of Fuller's 2001 book, her first, and her subsequent memoir about her mother will be familiar with these general themes. But this time around, the antics of her barmy family share center stage with Fuller herself, as she unspools the story of her surprisingly rocky life since childhood.

It turns out that while Fuller loves Africa and her family's "outrageous courage," she sought "a predictable, chartable future." The kind you might find with an American in America, where risk is controlled - at least in theory - by rules and regulations, sunscreen and hand sanitizer, and warning signs galore.

And so she moves to Wyoming with her new husband who finds his god in the wilderness: "Instead of the Bible, he read whitewater and lines of rock... Instead of bowing down before any god, he submitted to the superior power of a class five rapid. It was worship, but it was rational worship."

Fuller loves nature too but in an entirely different way. She recalls how southern Africans find warfare, not sanctuary, in the wilderness, and often go there to lose themselves in madness and "living suicide." In Africa, the wild is not a place to be appreciated and enjoyed and then left behind for a cubicle or a couch in a condo. …

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