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Leaving Before the Rains Come Hardcover – January 22, 2015

4.2 out of 5 stars 436 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2015: The key to a great memoir may be less in the story it tells than in the voice and eye of the storyteller. In Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller’s third memoir (she also wrote two other books of nonfiction), the author confirms what readers of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight detected on first reading of that debut: Fuller belongs in the pantheon of great memoirists, right alongside Mary Karr, Tobias Wolff, and Frank McCourt. Not unlike those writers, Fuller has a single trope – hers is a childhood spent as a British expat on a farm in revolution-torn southern Africa – that she uses over and over to define and clarify her life The title expression, for example, is a south Africanism for “get out while you can,” and throughout this heartfelt book, she uses experiences, images and memories from her twenty years in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and from the people she knew there, to illustrate more contemporary and local places and states of mind. Here, the focus is on the men in her life – for one, her heavy-drinking, plain-talking, fatalistic father who says thing like “Those who talk the most, usually have the least to say.” The other is Charlie, her now-ex-husband, an American mainline Philadelphia neo-cowboy who seems at first to be the perfect strong-and-sensitive type, all pragmatism to her barely controlled (but charming) chaos. While the book is ostensibly about their union, and its ultimate dissolution, it is also about memory and childhood and nature and modern life. Charlie and “Bobo” (Fuller’s family nickname, though she is sometimes also called “Al”) live together through elephant attacks (on their first date), malaria (on their wedding day) and relocation (from the wilds of Africa to the tamer wilds of Wyoming) but it is a more prosaic disaster that fells them: the real estate crash of 2008. What exactly went on emotionally between Charlie and Bobo is never fully explained – if you asked her, I’d bet she’d say that’s because she is still trying to figure it out – but the chords of loss she strikes resonate loudly and universally. Still, this is not a depressing book, thanks largely to Fuller’s winsome wit (she thought “mainline Philadelphia” meant that Charlie’s people were heroin addicts who happened to live in Pennsylvania) and unabashed admissions: she had nine novels rejected by publishers before figuring out she should write nonfiction. It’s hard to imagine there’s much more for Fuller to say about her life – and yet, I might have said that after the last memoir. Somehow, always, she finds another thread to weave into another masterpiece. --Sara Nelson

Review

Praise for LEAVING BEFORE THE RAINS COME

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“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.” 

Entertainment Weekly
(Grade: A): 

I've loved Alexandra Fuller's other books, particularly Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, a rich, marvelous memoir brimming with details of her romantic Rhodesian upbringing, and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, which traced her mother's history. But Leaving Before the Rains Come, the story of her crumbling marriage, is even better than those two books, 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."

People Magazine:  
 
“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.” 

New York Times Book Review:

“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.” 

Seattle PI

 “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.” 

Washington Post
“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.” 
 
Dallas Morning News
“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.” 
 
Economist
“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.” 
 
Boston Globe
“This clear-eyed chronicle is perhaps one of the best memoirs ever written about divorce.”
   
CityWeekly
“Honest insights to some of these questions shine brilliantly throughout Fuller’s characteristically poetic, often humorous writing about the pain of divorce… If there were a guide to self-care in the wake of divorce, this book is it.” 

Booklist (
starred review)

“Powerful, raw, and painful, Fuller’s writing is so immediate, so vivid that whether she’s describing the beauty of Zambia or the harrowing hours following a devastating accident, she leaves the reader breathless. Another not-to-be-missed entry from the gifted Fuller.”  

Publishers Weekly
“The rich narration of Fuller’s upbringing, sensibility, and loneliness make clear that she remains one of the most gifted and important memoirists of our time.” 

Kirkus
“Fuller’s talent as a storyteller makes this memoir sing.” 

Praise for COCKTAIL HOUR UNDER THE TREE OF FORGETFULNESS

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“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.”

The Washington Post: 
“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.”

Cleveland Plain-Dealer: 
“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.”

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

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

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

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

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; y First printing edition (January 22, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205868
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205866
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (436 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A couple of years back I had the chance to visit Zambia for two weeks. When I came home, I found it difficult to describe the people, the land, and the culture. In her new book, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller describes the country--with its beauty and tragedy--perfectly.

Fuller writes about growing up in Zimbabwe and Zambia with her sister, her eccentric mother, and her "colorful" father:

"'Malaria,' Dad said when his bank manager asked him what contingencies he had made for his senior years. `A bloody good, permanently fatal dose of malaria.'"

Fuller's childhood in an unstable country with unconventional parents was far from what Westerners consider normal. She often uses the words "chaos" or "disorder" to describe it:

"So we came to dinner at eight, dressed as if for the captain's table, although I knew, without knowing why I knew I knew it, that ours was really a lifeboat flung out onto the high sea of disorder....[Dad] put his revolver next to his side-plate. Mum put her Uzi on an empty chair beside her. `Safety on?' Dad always asked."

A desire for order, stability, and safety attracted the author to the man she ended up marrying, having children with, and later divorcing. The divorce itself, along with the events and emotions surrounding it, is the main story in Leaving Before the Rains Come. But the divorce isn't the whole story any more than one event in a life defines the whole life.

The author dwells on details that seem insignificant--her father's family members whom she had never met, for instance, or the history of a woman she and her husband leased a cabin from near Victoria Falls. But she writes in such a way that we don't mind the detour, if we are on one at all.
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I read Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, twice, so could not wait for the signing event to buy Leaving Before the Rains Come . . . .I Kindled it on the wait list and devoured it the same night that I got it. She made me laugh out loud, cry, and pray. Then I went to hear Alexandra speak about her book and, though I had been to a signing event for her last book and knew to expect more than a few fresh very humorous phrases, her talk last night was so humorous, so touching, and so fresh that to call her a wonderful speaker is vastly understating her talent.
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Bobo (Alexander's nickname) is a master of recounting without pathos or romantic longing. Yet she is clear about the elements of her childhood and young adulthood in Rhodesia that have formed her in ways both permanent and lovely. Her father had warned her that most people want to go through life with no real idea on how to live. He had no real rules for her except not being boring, remaining active, and being bathed and dressed for dinner at eight. This book is the latest in the series and examines again her life and how the chaos and the acceptance of trouble had shaped both her and the country. This book has been written from the perspective of a failed marriage which she entered with her equally strong longing for protection and safety. Early on, having lost her grandmother to death and her mother to madness, she has found the only way to stop needing a mothership was to become the mother ship.

Bobo's writing has a breezy stoicism formed from the expected personality at those nightly dinners. Yet she also steps back to tell us of her inner anxiety, a gift from childhood lived with just too much trauma, and does so without self pity or whining. I love her writing which is darkly humorous and deeply insightful. She is hugely entertaining but not self consciously so. Her parents are deeply flawed, but love her deeply, and she is able to move from that without resentment. The strict honesty she demands from herself makes her a delight to read, and her prose is lyrical and enmeshing.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While some readers might judge a book solely on the writing, which in this book is fine, I just can't get past the fact that this is a memoir of divorce. It's impossible for me to finish a divorce story with any feelings of satisfaction or enjoyment.

As always, I feel sorry for the non-writing spouse of a divorcing couple. Because that voice cannot be heard, I cannot take the author's story at face value. In fact, I feel sorry for Alexandra Fuller's ex-husband; she seems like a Peter Pan figure, unwilling to grow up and take charge of her life. Finances caused a major part of the couple's difficulties; she's willfully ignorant of their finances and makes no pretense of being interested. (She takes a financial course after she divorces, though.) And she expresses disdain for those who would lead "boring" lives, even though it might pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

Because of her upbringing in Africa by woefully negligent parents, she is addicted to drama and trauma. She just can't handle a quiet life in which no one is screaming, falling down drunk or on the verge of tragedy. She finds her married life in Montana to be too tame. She finds the United States too tame. "It was like being in the constant company of a kindly, sandwich-toting, risk-averse aunt," she says. She seems disappointed that her husband's family hailing from "Mainline Philadelphia" doesn't make them heroin addicts.

I began to weary of the author's wistfulness about her upbringing (especially given that she writes about the sexual abuse she and her sister suffered and which her parents waved away) and her narcissistic focus. At one point, her husband calls from a safari he's leading in Zambia and says, "I was almost eaten by a lion last night." Her response?
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