19. Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller

2 Apr

Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller

Forming a lifelong relationship with an autobiographer is a strange thing. How much personal detail do I need or care to know about a woman whom I don’t even know? Yet I have now read three of African-expatriate Alexandra Fuller’s four memoirs, including this latest, Leaving Before the Rains Come.

Fuller is one of those strange footnotes of history, a white African. She grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970s during the civil war between the breakaway white-governed republic and black independence parties. Her farmer parents stayed on in Africa after the war, living a eccentric, alcoholic life, plagued with drama, hardship and yet also apparently a fair amount of love and joy.

“My parents pitied me the fact that–at least as far as they could tell–all my dramas had to be self-inflicted. They considered the acceptance of the certainty of pandemonium an essential ingredient to the enjoyment of life.”

Fuller’s first memoir, Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight was the tale of growing up under the dubious supervision of these hard-drinking, tough-as-nails old Brits, who loved a country and a continent they had no rights to. The second, Scribbling The Cat, was about an even tougher war veteran neighbor of theirs in Zambia with whom she had an entanglement in her 20s. The third, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness focuses more on her parents’ experience and their troubled legacy as whites in Africa. And this one, Leaving Before the Rains Come, is about the end of Fuller’s 19-year marriage to an American with whom she eventually left Africa and had three children, now grown.

In the West, we learned that attitude and ambition saved you. In Africa we learned that no one was immune to capricious tragedy.

Her African family is her perennial topic, and in this book she tries to understand how these roots affected her marriage. As she says in different ways throughout the book, her American husband, whom she met while he was a rafting guide in Zambia and then followed to a much less interesting Upper Middle Class life in the American West, was “a gallant, one-man intervention wanting to save us from our recklessness.” She wanted to be saved, but then she felt erased. Her river-guide husband became a real-estate broker who, “always expected something more.” This is a relationship in which she writes “dread played a long, low note in my chest.” Elsewhere, she says,

“Divorce…is like a pot sitting forever on a stove suddenly coming to a boil.”

As a divorce story, this one makes perfect sense. And the desperate seriousness with which Fuller examines this material feels right. She’s looking for a version of events she can live with. Of course there isn’t ever really an answer on the end of a complex, decades-long relationship no matter how hard we seek one, so the reader is along for the gory details, a few hair-raising twists, and the frustrating half-wisdoms that come up along the way.

These are pretty interesting. I do want to know what Fuller’s dysfunctional parents think, since these are two people who have “lost three children, a war and several farms,” yet who

“had lived, worked and played together for the better part of forty years. Their tastes have cleaved and overlapped; they share bathwater, silently conceding that the grubbiest person goes last; they sleep under the claustrophobic confines of a single mosquito net.”

Her mother’s view on how to have a happy marriage is  something like “Oh, I don’t know. Marry the right bloke in the first place?” Her father’s doesn’t approve of divorce, but has a wonderful line where he says that life is basically, “You’re born, you die, and then there’s the bit in the middle.”

These refreshing viewpoints are probably why I’ve read three books about these people. And I like Fuller more all the time.

5 Responses to “19. Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller”

  1. patricia April 2, 2015 at 2:25 am #

    love this!!! follow for follow?

  2. TheKevin April 2, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Love reading your reviews on books, it’s like hearing your perspective of it is a whole lot enriching than reading it myself.. :)

  3. Grab the Lapels April 2, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Wow, that IS a lot of time spent with the same person. And I’m really surprised to learn that her family was in Zimbabwe; I once had a student from Zimbabwe, and he said that inflation was so bad his family could buy bread, and when he got a small infection on his leg he almost lost it because there was no where to get it treated. Thinking about that student, I feel sad. He is one of the memorable ones.

  4. jshipley2013 April 3, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

    Hey, I’ve been lurking, enjoying Anthology of Clouds for several months, getting the voyeur’s thrill of learning about books I’ll likely never read. My literary appetites are severely spare: poetry and nonfiction, uh, yeah, period. And lo: Fuller’s book (which is lyric nonfiction )– I read it already; I’ve read everything she’s written including that crazy genre misfit: The Legend of Colton H. Bryant.

    I am a full on Fuller-ite.

    And I love how you’ve tackled her work here: “And the desperate seriousness with which Fuller examines this material feels right. She’s looking for a version of events she can live with.”

    Well said. And even better: what a feat, hey? To be able to disembowel one’s self and still live (okay, I’m exaggerating), but she does do a fab job of what we call navel gazing to fantastic effect–using the emptied contents of her life, she manages to illuminate something of ours, or at least hold our attention with these jesus lord almighty gorgeous sentences: (let’s pull one at random)(ok,here we go)

    “Like one of those dogs trained to sense low blood sugar in diabetics, or to detect an immanent seizure in epileptics, Vanessa has uncanny radar for trouble, knowing before anyone else when things are about to start falling apart.”

    Yes! to refreshing viewpoints and Yes! to this refreshing forum

    ~julia (a-yup, your vanilla highschool classmate)

    • Ivalleria April 8, 2015 at 9:24 pm #

      Hi Julia! Sorry I am usually all over my blog comments, since I do not get very many, but I happened to be away over the weekend….. Thank you so much for reading my blog and for commenting on this Alexandra Fuller post. I am fascinated to learn that I am not alone in my strange devotion to her. She does write good sentences. She is insightful. Her experiences illustrate and feel relevant to my own. Yet I still feel like I’m missing some more specific quality that would explain why this has been such a durable relationship. Maybe there’s something big-sister-ish about her. I don’t know. Glad you’re here with me!

      Also I am fascinated to learn that you read only non-fiction and poetry. The title of this blog is taken from a Timothy Donnelly poem from a book called “The Cloud Corporation”. I should put it on the about page. Here’s a link if you’re interested. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/241022

      So nice to hear from you. Come to the next SMX reunion. I think it might be 25 this summer?

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