After nine rejected novels, Alexandra Fuller could have agreed with the editor who suggested that maybe she just didn’t have a story inside her.
But Fuller didn’t agree, and the next time she wrote not a novel, but a memoir.
It proved quite a story. Her 2001 book, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” was equal parts funny, awkward and harrowing. Its perspective was unusual: Fuller was residing in Wyoming as the transplanted daughter of white British farmers who lived in Rhodesia during the civil strife that accompanied that nation’s turbulent transition to independent rule.
For much of her time in Africa, from 1972 through 1994, violence never seemed far from her family’s door. The occasional muffled thud in the distance could represent the detonation of a land mine, and trips to town often meant traveling in a convoy behind a mine-detecting vehicle.
This was on top of the inherent challenges presented by the location, such as managing malaria and dealing with occasional household pests, which at Fuller’s house meant scorpions or snakes.
And then there was the Fuller family drama.
In her recent memoir, “Leaving Before the Rains Come,” Fuller offers more perspective on her family’s challenges. That included how, in 1978, Fuller’s younger sister drowned in a neighbor’s pond while Fuller, then age 9, had been charged with her supervision.
Small wonder that when Fuller met her future husband, an American running rafting and canoe operations in Zambia, she was startled when he said he had come to Africa for the “adrenaline.”
For Fuller, adrenaline had been never been an exotic lifestyle choice.
“In my experience, to this day, there always was and still is plenty of adrenaline to go around, and I certainly don’t need to look for it,” Fuller wrote in a recent email from Africa.
“I write this on my parents’ farm,” she continued. “We are experiencing a terrible drought. Two months into the supposed rainy season, our water is all but gone and we are drinking mud, literally. The fish are stressed & dying in our ponds from lack of water; the banana leaves (are) yellow & torn & in places literally sagging off the plant.”
Meanwhile, electrical service is spotty. In this environment, she added, “thrill-seeking seems not only superfluous but also self-indulgent and unconscious.”
Still, Fuller married the American, moved to the United States and reared three children with him before their marriage ended. Her recent memoir, her third, adds greater context to those experiences as well as the choices made by her parents, whom she described in her email as “adventure-loving, safety-averse, hard-drinking, gloriously tough” and who preferred Africa to England.
Fuller presents her parents without apology. Writing with candor about them, Fuller found, produced multiple books that editors have been eager to publish.
“I thought I had nothing to lose so I risked being completely honest,” Fuller, who still resides in Wyoming, wrote regarding “Dogs Tonight.” She also wanted “to write something for my children so that they would know where I came from. From the perspective of their world, I knew I would seem an outlier to them.
“There is this odd perspective from readers who seem to think my family’s life and history is something I should be ashamed of or perhaps judgmental about. I am neither.”
Fuller speaks at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. For more info, go to kclibrary.org.