GROWING up in the backblocks of rural Zambia, surrounded by the turmoil and terror of Rhodesia’s civil wars and the constant uncertainty of post-colonialism, life is never dull for Alexandra Fuller. As the daughters of an English-born farmer and his Anglo-Kenyan wife, Fuller and her sister learn to negotiate a hazardous landscape, potentially lethal wildlife, rampant diseases and political volatility. Complicating the mix is their mother’s emotional instability and both parents’ excessive drinking and financial recklessness.
Nothing prepares the girls, however, for life in the wider world.
Beyond the relative comfort of her father’s various farms, as a young wife living with her American adventurer husband in the capital, Lusaka, Fuller first encounters the unfamiliar insecurity of feeling alien. With each new life event – the birth of her children, the family’s move to the US, the couple’s search for work and acquisition of a mortgage – Fuller’s discomfort escalates.
Emotionally distanced from her husband, she begins to wonder if their marriage can survive the pitfalls of a materially driven Western existence in a culture completely at odds with her simplistic upbringing.
In Leaving Before the Rains Come Fuller grapples with the possibility that the union is beyond salvation: “Ours (has) contracted into a grocery-list relationship – finances, children, housekeeping,” she writes. She describes the loneliness and isolation of first-time motherhood and the lack of support that leaves her floundering.
At the same time she questions her own identity. No-longer truly African, she finds herself caught somewhere between her youth in tropical southern Africa and her adulthood in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Idaho, distanced physically from one place but never quite fully acclimatised to the other.
Fuller’s frank assessment of her uncomfortable circumstances creates a memoir that is likely to trigger self-examination in many readers and prompt some to review their own choices.