three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Neely Tucker
user_rating: 
0

A Family Memoir

A-LoveDriestSeasonIn Zimbabwe’s highlands, a mother abandons her infant girl. By chance, a passerby discovers her and takes her to the local orphanage, where she is given the name Chipo, or "gift" in the Shona language. When Tucker, a white, Mississippi-born foreign correspondent, and his African-American wife, Vita, meet Chipo in 1998, she is three months old and gravely ill. Unable to have children of their own, the Tuckers set out to adopt her. But in AIDS-ravaged, politically unstable Zimbabwe, the task is Herculean—especially for a foreign reporter. Woven together with the author’s dispatches from Africa and his personal history with racism, Chipo’s story explores the power of the "gift" of love for one life, one family.
Crown. 256 pages. $23.95.

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"For all the virtues of Tucker’s lean narrative, I felt there were a few places he could have lingered longer. … Such quibbles aside, Tucker has written an extraordinary book of immense feeling and significant social relevance." Adam Fifield

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Tucker is a powerful writer. Around Chipo’s story he loops a gritty depiction of Africa: the war in Rwanda, the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi and above all Robert Mugabe’s governance of Zimbabwe—the bureaucracy, the brutality, the greed and the fear." Nora Seton

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Love in the Driest Season, at its core, is adoption literature. … Because of its epic weave—of African cultures and politics; AIDS and its destruction; and the interracial marriage of the author from a white racist Mississippi background and his wife from black Detroit—this story about the adoption of a tiny, critically ill Zimbabwean orphan appeals to the head as much as the heart." Clara Germani

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
>"Deeply honest and filled with raw emotion, Love in the Driest Season carries the reader on a bumpy ride. Though the writing sometimes seems sensational, it is a rewarding drama driven by the strong bonds of love." Gregory Houle

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Neely Tucker’s memoir brings a welcome understated seriousness to the genre. … Avoiding that annoying sense of self-importance that sometimes plagues the personal accounts of journalists working in politically hot regions, Tucker treats his own role as foreign correspondent as relatively ordinary in the larger scheme of things." Paula Friedman

Detroit Free Press 3 of 5 Stars
"What mars the book, though, is Tucker’s finely tuned sense of his own injury. … That makes Tucker’s frequent complaints about how exhausted and disillusioned he was as a foreign correspondent distracting." Marta Salij

Critical Summary

Critics unanimously praise the emotional honesty of Tucker’s memoir. Chipo’s story, from the book’s harrowing opening lines, where ants feast on her umbilical cord and ear, to her journey to the brink of death and back again, is unusually powerful and compelling. Tucker sweeps the reader along on his and Vita’s roller coaster ride as they fall in love with Chipo and fight to keep her. Tucker gives some themes—his personal struggle against racism, and his journalistic experiences in Africa—less attention. At times, the reporter in him triumphs over the storyteller, which interrupts an otherwise emotionally touching narrative. And one critic accused Tucker of playing martyr. But most reviewers found this tumultuous journey of love rewarding—even with its dual message of hope and despair.

For Further Reading

A-LostDaughtersChina.epsThe lost daughters of china Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past | Karin Evans (2000): A former editor at Outside and Health magazines chronicles her efforts to adopt a Chinese girl in 1997.

A-GirlsTrouble.epsGirls in Trouble A Novel | Caroline Leavitt (2004): HHH May/June 2004. A teen can’t handle giving up her baby for adoption.