Leaving Before the Rains Come
By Alexandra Fuller. Random House Canada, 258 pp, hardcover
Divorce memoirs are a tricky proposition. The unravelling of a marriage is hardly remarkable, and therefore not an inherently compelling narrative. Add to that: the storyteller is naturally detached from a key chapter of the story—the falling in love bit—so it’s hard for the reader to be invested in the outcome. Alexandra Fuller’s third memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come, is no exception.
The best-selling author is famous for her megawatt debut, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, a coming-of-age tale set during the Rhodesian civil war that followed Fuller’s chaotic, loving family of drunken white farmers as they confronted parasites, scorpions, armed conflict, drownings, and mental illness. With it, Fuller pioneered a brutal, beautiful brand of truth-telling that made her literary royalty. (This latest title has earned four articles in the New York Times, plus a podcast.)
And yet Fuller’s writing feels restrained here. Her three children are absent from the page, and her ex-husband—the American blue-blood adventurer turned real-estate speculator Charlie Ross—is a ghost of a character, reduced to the odd complaint that Fuller allows herself.
Far more poignant than the end of this 20-year marriage are Fuller’s vivid descriptions of their early home, the Zambia she left behind, and her meditations on how the continent shaped who she is and, ultimately, set her in opposition to her husband.
Her homeland is a place of “violent beauty”. Her life there teeters on the precipice, constantly threatening to end in tragedy. This struggle both exhilarates and exhausts her, so Fuller seeks refuge at 22 in Ross’s pragmatism and stability, and in his country. In the end, though, she finds the “sticking it out, sensible decisions, college funds, mortgages, and car payments” soul-crushing, and the story becomes a fierce, poetic exercise in homesickness.
Africa turns out to be the central character here—the defining relationship—and it saves the book.