Saturday, July 13, 2013

She Left Me the Gun

For most, it is difficult to imagine the lives our parents lived before we were born.  We (with a bit of luck) bonded with our parents when we were children, and no matter how old they live to be, to us they largely remain the people they were when we were growing up.  We are forever their children, they our parents.

Although her mother sometimes hinted at some rather dark secrets in her past, She Left Me the Gun author Emma Brockes was never curious enough to press her for details.  Paula, her mother, only offered the occasional hint, immediately shutting down the conversation if Emma asked even the most innocent question - and Emma never pushed her hard enough to learn anything new.  She did know that her mother had immigrated to England from South Africa in 1960 and maintained only limited contact with her South African family and friends from her new home.

Then, when Emma was 27 years old, her mother died and she was surprised to learn that her father did not know a whole lot more about her mother's past than she did.  Determined to learn the truth about her mother's first thirty years, and regretting that she had not insisted that her mother tell her more before it was too late, Emma decided it was time to visit South Africa.  What she would learn there turned out to be more tragic than anything she ever imagined.

Emma Brockes
She Left Me the Gun (subtitled My Mother's Life Before Me) is the story of a dysfunctional South African family whose family-dynamic seems to have crippled the emotional lives of at least two generations.  Old grudges seem to die hard in this family, and Emmas relatives were generally eager to share the worst tales of the family's past with their British visitor.  Unbeknownst to Emma, her mother was still somewhat of a hero to the rest of the family, someone who, after displaying the courage to fight the pure evilness that was such a part of her daily life, had the equal courage to begin a new life for herself thousands of miles away from everything, and everyone, she knew.

Bottom Line: one gets the impression that, despite learning that her mother had lived two very different lives, Emma still has a hard time emotionally connecting that first life to her mother.  To Emma, Paula will always be the British mother with whom she grew up.  To her, it is almost as if her mothers first thirty years happened to someone else.  Fans of frank, unusual memoirs will want to take a look at this one.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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