Tag Archives: Africa

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.