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Leaving Before the Rains Come


Edited by Ann Godoff

Looking to rebuild after a painful divorce, Alexandra Fuller turns to her African past for clues to living a life fully and without fear.

A child of the Rhodesian wars and daughter of two deeply complicated parents, Alexandra Fuller is no stranger to pain. But the disintegration of Fuller’s own marriage leaves her shattered. Looking to pick up the pieces of her life, she finally confronts the tough questions about her past, about the American man she married, and about the family she left behind in Africa. A breathtaking achievement, Leaving Before the Rains Come is a memoir of such grace and intelligence, filled with such wit and courage, that it could only have been written by Alexandra Fuller.

Leaving Before the Rains Come begins with the dreadful first years of the American financial crisis when Fuller’s delicate balance—between American pragmatism and African fatalism, the linchpin of her unorthodox marriage—irrevocably fails. Recalling her unusual courtship in Zambia—elephant attacks on the first date, sick with malaria on the wedding day—Fuller struggles to understand her younger self as she overcomes her current misfortunes. Fuller soon realizes what is missing from her life is something that was always there: the brash and uncompromising ways of her father, the man who warned his daughter that “the problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without having any idea whatsoever how to live.” Fuller’s father—”Tim Fuller of No Fixed Abode” as he first introduced himself to his future wife—was a man who regretted nothing and wanted less, even after fighting harder and losing more than most men could bear.

Leaving Before the Rains Come showcases Fuller at the peak of her abilities, threading panoramic vistas with her deepest revelations as a fully grown woman and mother. Fuller reveals how, after spending a lifetime fearfully waiting for someone to show up and save her, she discovered that, in the end, we all simply have to save ourselves. An unforgettable book, Leaving Before the Rains Come is a story of sorrow grounded in the tragic grandeur and rueful joy only to be found in Fuller’s Africa.

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Praise

Praise for LEAVING BEFORE THE RAINS COME 

“Ms. Fuller writes with ferocity and precision, and she turns the story of her marriage and its disintegration into a resonant parable about a couple’s mismatched views of the world.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“One of the gutsiest memoirs I’ve ever read. And the writing—oh my God, the writing. It’s more than a little daunting to review a book so gorgeously wrought that you stop, time and again, just to marvel at the language.” —Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

“After writing unforgettable memoirs about her charmingly eccentric African upbringing, Fuller chronicles the doomed marriage that turned her into a quasi-American.  This gorgeously written march toward divorce is a doozy; She sought a tame, stable life and then fought it off like a caged (and crazed) lioness.” –People Magazine  

“Fuller is far from depleted: This book perhaps marks the beginning of her journey toward an unassailable possession of mind, and toward a new kind of freedom.” — Rachel Cusk, New York Times Book Review

“The rawness and beauty of Africa, a country most only come close to in the news, comes to life in the pages of Fuller’s words.”—Seattle PI

“Fuller unravels her feelings in an exquisite meditation on what it means to be alone — on the courage it can inspire, as well as the sometimes undeniable sense of sorrow. Here the fear arises again, but this time she takes it in her hand and smartly wraps it in nothing — no pretty paper, no apologies.”—Washington Post

“Often wildly funny, Leaving Before the Rains Come tells the bittersweet story of Bobo and Charlie’s marriage…She is a vivid storyteller, trained in the art by her colorful mother and laconic father…. [Fuller] excels at re-creating her African background and bringing her family back to life in an endlessly entertaining way.” — Dallas Morning News

“On the surface, it is the story of the end of a marriage. It is not, however, a divorce memoir, nor is there much of the misery about it. Instead, Ms Fuller has stitched together a patchwork of anecdotes and emotions spanning two continents—the Africa of her early years and the America of her adult life—and many generations of variously mad and sad ancestors in an attempt to make sense of it all. Her writing is astoundingly good; she loops forwards and backwards in time and place, but there is not a spare word in the book. Every story earns its right to be there.” —Economist

“This clear-eyed chronicle is perhaps one of the best memoirs ever written about divorce.” —Boston Globe

“No one captures forces of nature – human and otherwise – with the wry insight of British author Alexandra Fuller… “Leaving Before the Rains Come,”… succeeds because it’s always honest and never precious. Fuller offers lessons about life here, but they don’t flash in neon, and she never portrays herself as anything but a flawed person.” —Christian Science Monitor

“This glorious and wise, heartbreakingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny aria to the country and life she left behind is also the story of how she borrows her father’s wisdom, as well as his “violent” attachment to the land, to find a place to stand for herself.” – More

“[T]he book is transporting… It’s the visit home, to Africa, the long talks with her ailing and yet still quippy, delightful father, the stingingly honest recollections of who she was as a child and who she’s become as a woman, and a striking lyricism in the writing that bring this third memoir to full, realized brilliance.” —Oregonian

Praise for COCKTAIL HOUR UNDER THE TREE OF FORGETFULNESS 

“Electrifying…Writing in shimmering, musical prose… Ms. Fuller manages the difficult feat of writing about her mother and father with love and understanding, while at the same time conveying the terrible human costs of the colonialism they supported… Although Ms. Fuller would move to America with her husband in 1994, her own love for Africa reverberates throughout these pages, making the beauty and hazards of that land searingly real for the reader.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Ten years after publishing Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Alexandra (Bobo) Fuller treats us in this wonderful book to the inside scoop on her glamorous, tragic, indomitable mother…Bobo skillfully weaves together the story of her romantic, doomed family against the background of her mother’s remembered childhood.”— The Washington Post

“Another stunner… The writer’s finesse at handling the element of time is brilliant, as she interweaves near-present-day incidents with stories set in the past. Both are equally vivid… With Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller, master memoirist, brings her readers new pleasure. Her mum should be pleased.”—Cleveland Plain-Dealer

Praise for DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT

“This is not a book you read just once, but a tale of terrible beauty to get lost in over and over.” —Newsweek

“By turns mischievous and openhearted, earthy and soaring . . . hair-raising, horrific, and thrilling.”—The New Yorker

“Vivid, insightful and sly…Bottom line: Out of Africa, brilliantly.”—People

 

Author Q&A

Excerpt

“Big excitement this week,” Mum says. “We got invited to a party in Lusaka. You know, those people with all the consonants in their names. Tiny blobs of caviar, well, trout eggs really, not sturgeon obviously, and scary amounts of vodka.”

“Scary?”

“Yes, so by the time we were ready to leave the party, your father had already had far too much excitement. He climbed onto the roof of the pickup and refused to come down,” Mum says.

“Then what?” I ask.

“I had to drive off with him like that,” Mum says. “And you know what a terrible driver I am. Heaven only knows how we made it home. I was halfway to Makeni before it dawned on me that I might be driving on the wrong side of the road.”

“Dawned on you?”

“Well, Bobo, you know what drivers are these days. I thought they were hooting at me because they wanted me to go faster.”

“So?”

“I drove faster, of course,” Mum says. “Dad was thumping on the roof but I assumed he was just singing the Hallelujah chorus or Tchaikovsky’s bells and cannons. How was I to know he wanted to come down? Oh, it was such a performance.”

I shut my eyes and pictured the soft, hot world at the bottom of the farm, with the river lazily curling its way east to Mozambique, and my parents contributing to a general sense of easygoing mayhem in their inimitable way.

It takes a kind of outrageous courage—recklessness even, I might have said once—to revel in the pattern of that much definite chaos. I had been raised in this way, and I had loved much of my early life and of course I loved my family, but at some point I had lost the mettle and the imagination to surrender to the promise of perpetual insecurity. Instead I chose to believe in the possibility of a predictable, chartable future and I had picked a life that I imagined would have certainties, safety nets, and assurances.

What I did not know then is that the assurances I needed couldn’t be had. I did not know 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.

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