By Aurora de Peralta
As a child of the Rhodesian wars, Alexandra Fuller hadn’t expected to trade her sub-Saharan Africa lifestyle for marriage and childbirth in Wyoming. But that’s just what she did when she met an American safari guide named Charlie Ross. Then came the 2008 financial crisis, crippling both the U.S. economy and her marriage. The pair have since separated.
Fuller’s failed marriage gets placed under the spotlight in her new memoir Leaving Before the Rains Come, which she discussed at a Politics and Prose talk on Jan. 27. The book unpacks the end to her unorthodox marriage, recounting the emotional challenges of forging relationships. She described the end of her marriage feeling like the innate stirring wild animals feel before the rains come, as if there had been a signal alerting her to leave. She also details the life she’s made for herself now, raising her three teenaged children in a country that is at once more free and more complicated.
Having spent her formative years in a war-torn part of Africa, Fuller was no stranger to oppressive regimes and constant danger. In 1972, at age 2, the British-born author moved to what was then Rhodesia, then after the civil war to Malawi, and then to Zambia. Censorship was among many of Fuller’s daily struggles—along with disease, wild animals and stray bullets.
But Fuller said the prospect of freedom of speech—and the country’s native pop idols— excited her the most about moving to America.
“I never expected to leave Africa,” she said to the Politics and Prose audience. “But I knew two things about the States: you had freedom of speech and you had Michael Jackson.”
Fuller soon learned the fine print to free speech in the United States. What she called her “unfiltered outspokenness” was no more welcome at the tables of Americans than it would have been in the newspapers of southwestern Africa. She joked that she would leave dinner parties with bruises on her shin from her husband’s swift kicks under the table.
“He would tell me, ‘You’re like the nouveau-riche of freedom of speech,” Fuller said. “’Those of us who have had it for a few generations don’t need to use it all the time.’”
Fuller’s lighthearted self-deprecation and charming accent sent waves of laughter through the crowd of attendees packed in Politics and Prose. But a profound belief that the lack of free speech contributed to the end of her relationship lay at the heart of her humor. The audience listened in silence as Fuller explained how we self-restrict our own speech.
“We’re very good at censoring ourselves,” she said. “We forget that democracy is a powerful entanglement of conversation—not you yelling at me or me yelling at you, but that we can both use the dignity of our voices.”
For Fuller, that dignity of voice had been lost in her relationship. She likened her marriage to solitary confinement, saying that it was as if their abilities to speak their minds had been revoked.
“Unless we do our marriages robustly and openly, and unless we are speaking for our authentic selves, then this is just a nation of falsehood,” Fuller said. “That’s what it seems to me that my marriage had become–like a tiny, most favored nation treaty.”
Though Leaving Before the Rains Come is marketed as a divorce memoir, Fuller insisted that her book was actually an “anti-divorce divorce memoir,” in which she reclaimed her voice and her mind. While she acknowledged that she puts “the ‘me’ in memoir,” she encouraged anyone in the audience with a story to share it.
“I write one, tiny story,” she said. “If you have a story, then as gently, funnily and beautifully as you can, tell us.”
Alexandra Fuller – http://www.alexandrafuller.org