BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, February 2015
Alexandra Fuller’s hardscrabble African lyricism returns in her third memoir, which focuses on the push-pull of her marriage to American adventurer Charlie Ross. Although much of Leaving Before the Rains Come is set in Wyoming, where Fuller settles uncomfortably into American domesticity, her war-torn childhood in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the drunken pragmatism of her parents continue to shape her worldview.
When Fuller meets her future husband at a polo club in Zambia, he seems the perfect blend of adventure and restraint. He runs a river guiding service on the Zambezi, and takes clients up Kilimanjaro—safely, with Range Rovers to collect them at the end of the adventure. It’s unlike Fuller’s own African childhood, which was filled with random acts of catastrophe and violence. Charlie’s appeal is undeniable, but so is the simmering tension between his perspective and hers.
The “sacred terror and beauty” of Africa is lost to Fuller in the mountain subdivisions of Jackson Hole, where Charlie becomes a real estate agent and frets over columns of numbers. They have three children, and the weight of American materialism displaces adventure in their relationship. The financial crisis of 2008 hits their marriage hard, as does Fuller’s heartbroken realization that she is not African anymore.
Turning to the example of her father and her English and Scottish ancestors, Fuller’s work in this memoir is to patch together her own identity and—in a profound sense—to retrieve her soul. Her father’s life lessons are what save her: among them, fearlessness, endurance and dressing for dinner. Also: humor, gin and tonics and Epsom salts. “Loss is a part of the game,” he tells Fuller, and “regret’s a waste of bloody time.”
Fuller’s blend of wry honesty and heartfelt environmental consciousness will resonate with both new readers and longtime admirers of her distinctive style.