‘Leaving Before’ a powerful memoir about a divorce

The narrative thread that binds together Alexandra Fuller’s memoir “Leaving Before the Rains Come” is the deterioration of her marriage and subsequent divorce. Divorce can be a difficult subject. In Fuller’s nimble hands the topic is melancholy and disillusioning but never bitter or angry.

This is Fuller’s third memoir since 2001. She is in her mid-40s, one might wonder how she can have so much to write about? Her first two memoirs, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” and “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” reveal she has lived a most unusual life.

Fuller’s parents met in Kenya. She was born in England in 1969. Three years later her family returned to Africa. They moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The Rhodesian Bush War was underway. When the family ate their meals they kept their guns at the table, just in case.

The family eked out a living on farms in Rhodesia, Malawi and later Zambia. Her parents still live there. In “Leaving Before the Rains Come” Fuller describes meeting her future husband, Charlie Ross. This dashing American led rafting expeditions along Zambian rivers.

She remembers “when I was breaking down my reason for marrying Charlie to other people, I said, ‘He looked good on a horse.’ ” In her post-mortem analysis she concedes: “But even if Charlie had looked like a sack of potatoes on a horse, I would have come up with some other reason for my having said, ‘Yes.’ I would have said it was his unkempt beard, or his long legs, or his uncompromising Romanesque profile like something off an ancient coin, that had drawn me to him.”

With hindsight she admits: “What I never would have confessed was the truth: at twenty-two I was already exhausted, and what I projected onto Charlie’s broad-shouldered frame was an embellished biography that made him both my sanctuary and my savior. I believed that if I moored myself to Charlie, I would know tranquility interspersed with organized adventure. He would stay in Zambia because he loved the romance of it. I could remain here safely.”

Fuller weaves childhood memories into her narrative. We obtain numerous flashbacks. Some are funny, others haunting. She blames herself for the death of her baby sister. The couple’s honeymoon veers from danger to hilarity. Fuller’s account of trying to run her first household is marvelously wacky.

The couple could not make it work in Zambia. Fuller had taken ill with malaria. After their first child was born they moved to America eventually settling in Jackson, Wyoming. Financial pressures took their toll. Her husband found a job that Fuller considered to be morally reprehensible. The relationship was withering.

Throughout this exquisitely drawn memoir Fuller provides counterpoints; as her marriage was sputtering she could observe her parents. They had weathered tragedies. Misadventures only served to strengthen their bond. This is a wise, perceptive, engaging book. Her sentences glow like so many strings of pearls. May she have a long life and keep on writing about it.

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Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.