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Leaving Before the Rains Come Hardcover – January 22, 2015
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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
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."
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“This clear-eyed chronicle is perhaps one of the best memoirs ever written about divorce.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.”
“Vivid, insightful and sly…Bottom line: Out of Africa, brilliantly.”
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Glorious writing with a beautiful syntax. The memoir of Alexandra Fuller describes her life in South Africa and with her husband in the United States. Read morePublished 10 days ago by Jenna Stiles
I could not develop any attachment to the characters, negative or positive. Her wordy prose did little to enhance the book.Published 14 days ago by Janet Monell
Beautiful prose, insiteful. Feel like the end "left me hanging a bit" you want to know how this woman is doing now! ( really know)Published 16 days ago by Laura McHenry
I enjoyed this memoir. Alexandria made me feel like I was right there in Africa with her. So descriptive. A bit depressing at times, but life there could be. Read morePublished 22 days ago by Tina W.
Having read her two previous African life stories,I was interested in "the rest of the story" and wanted to read this.... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Barbara Marsh
Love her writing she did a nice job of not harming the reputation of her husband but it lost a bit of the truth I so admire in her story telling Always recommended Always boughtPublished 24 days ago by Amazon Customer
I bought this book in anticipation of my up coming trip to Zambia. I read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, the second in Fuller’s memoir trilogy and was excited to... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Linda Ballou
I think I have most of Alexandra Fuller's books and have very mush enjoyed each one. Her writing is lyrical.Published 1 month ago by J. Painter
Couldn't bring myself to finish this book. Nothing happens, at least before I got about half way through.Published 1 month ago by N. Murray