"One day I will tell you the story of my life," promises Emma Brockes' mother, "and you will be amazed." Despite her mother's tales of a rustic childhood in South Africa and bohemian years in London, Brockes grew up knowing that some crucial pieces of the past were left unspoken. A mystery to her friends and family, Brockes' mother, Paula, was glamorous, no-nonsense, and totally out of place in their quaint English village. What compelled her to emigrate to England was never explained, nor what empowered her tremendous strengths and strange fears. Looking to unearth the truth after Paula's death, Brockes begins a dangerous journey into the land - and the life - her mother fled from years before.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me is a tale of true transformation, the story of a young woman who reinvented herself so completely that her previous life seemed to simply vanish - and of a daughter who transcends her mother's fears and reclaims an abandoned past. Brockes soon learns that Paula's father was a drunk megalomaniac who terrorized Paula and her seven half-siblings for years. He is ultimately taken to court and vindicated of all charges - but not before Paula shoots him five times, and fails to kill him. She books passage to London, never to return.
She Left Me the Gun carries Brockes to South Africa to meet her seven aunts and uncles, to weigh their stories against her mother's silences, and to understand one of the world's most beautiful yet bloody countries. Brockes learns of the violent pathologies and racial propaganda in which her grandfather was inculcated, sees the mine shafts and train yards where he worked as an itinerant mechanic, and finds buried in government archives the startling court records that prove he was secretly imprisoned for murder years before he first married.
An extraordinary work of psychological suspense and forensic memoir, She Left Me the Gun chronicles Brockes' efforts to walk the knife edge between understanding her mother's unspeakable traumas and embracing the happiness she chose for herself and her daughter.
©2013 Emma Brockes (P)2013 Penguin Audio
The Ragtag Horde
It is right up there with the best of them.
I can't name a specific book, or author, but what She Left Me The Gun has in common with the best memoirs is a flow, and a story. There is mystery, humor, horror, and growth.
Everything! Sometimes authors reading their own books is a big mistake, but in this case I can't imagine how someone else could do a better job.
Yes, although I did break it up for real life concerns, and I will be listening to it again to savor the writing.
Don't be afraid of the subject matter - dysfunctional families are the cliche of memoir, but this one is fresh, fascinating, and involving. In my opinion it really does deserve five stars.
Wonderfully, powerfully written without being syrupy or full of excesses of emotion. The narrator is in harmony with the story; her voice is either humorous or matter of fact depending on story. Story is one of survival against the most daunting family history of extreme poverty, incest, injustice in White South Africa. I will remember that a woman who shot her father, testified at his trial for incest, established a successful life in England in the 1970s. She overcame trouble that would have caused nervous breakdown in lesser souls. Her strength became her Daughter's inspiration.
I'm a recovering librarian. Since I had a stroke in 2002 I have found reading print difficult. I am so grateful for audiobooks.
After her mother's death, Emma went back to South Africa where her mother grew up in search of connecting pieces of information about her mother's family. Her mother had corresponded with most of her siblings over the years and told Emma sparse bits of information about her past -- often hinting that there was much more to the story.
South African landscape, climate and culture was fascinating. Conversations with aunts, uncles and cousins revealed their individual approaches to survival in a family that reflected the country, hostile and beautiful. The days spent in research or on a drunk with family she had not previously met was less intriguing to me.
We read this for our book club. The performance made the book. I'm happy I chose the listen route.
There was no surprise ending.
There were no strong emotions involved with this listen.
Memoirs are not my first choice; but try to read a variety of genres.The narrator kept my interest.
Although the author expresses herself well, the book needs editing. Too many events are thrown in in an unclear fashion. The author’s family is large and I could not keep everyone straight, other than the author’s mother’s seven half-siblings, at least when they were identified with their given name. A “mother” is spoken of and you wonder is that the author’s mother or her mother’s mother or…..which mother?! There are wives and cousins and friends and enemies galore. Few had the same opinion about a given event. The whole story becomes confusing, and it is unclear what information is reliable. Squabbles and drinking influence everyone’s story. And yet, in any family, don’t we all have different versions of the given events?
Life in South Africa is also thrown in, with some brief sections on Nelson Mandela and a few other political figures, but what is the purpose of this book? Is it to relate how historical events affect families? No, I don’t think so. Is it the author’s attempt to understand her mother and her own family? She says that is why she is writing it, but then why does she say she will return but doesn’t?
Or is this simply someone writing a memoir about their family? Ahhhh, this will make an exciting book! I’ve got a story to tell. Everyone nowadays wants to write their own memoir. The basic story here is about a dysfunctional family, about alcoholism and sexual child abuse, and yes, the events are shocking. My guess is that the author needed to work through her own loss of her mother after her death. That IS reasonable, and it IS great to hear of her mother’s strength of character, but I see this as a personal story, not one that I can empathize with. Maybe that is my fault rather than the author’s, but that is how I reacted! Maybe the author through writing the book reached closure, but do you write a book and publish it when you are doing this for yourself? I, the reader, am left confused and without closure. This book will perhaps be more appreciated by one who has dealt with child abuse and alcoholism in their own family…… for them, this may be a helpful book.
In the audiobook the author reads her own book, and she does this very well. She has a British accent, since her Mom had her after she had immigrated to England. England was her home if never really her mother’s. It is interesting: kids should realize their parents have had a whole life before they ever arrived on the scene and often we know very little about that previous life. Do we ask and do our parents tell us?
I did like this book, but it should have been better organized, made less confusing and cleaned up a bit, so for me it ended up just being OK. Often, but not always, I did like how she strung together her words. How an author writes is important to me. Some authors have such a talent and others just don’t. I do think I would try another book by this author.
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