So many of the books I’ve been reading/reviewing recently are difficult and sad and devastating. This is a book filled with hope and love — and incredibly poetic prose. A much needed respite….
More than ten million children have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa over the past few decades. Ten million. It is a number that is almost impossible to imagine, unbearable to envision, and virtually hopeless to try to comprehend.
But Neely Tucker, a correspondent for the Detroit Free Press living with his wife in Zimbabwe, finds a way to make the stories of all those orphans more real, simply by focusing on the plight of one of them. Love in the Driest Season tells of a girl-child found abandoned, still blood-and-placenta-encrusted, in the tall brown grass of the Zimbabwean highland, “where rain is a rumor that will not come true for many months.” A local woman rescued the newborn, took her to an orphanage in the capital and named her Chipo (which means “gift.”) For weeks, she lay in a small crib, sick and forlorn, until Mr. Tucker puts out his finger during a tour of the orphanage and Chipo grabs hold.
Mr. Tucker and his wife became Chipo’s lifeline, fighting to save her life as she suffers through pneumonia, dehydration and the all encompassing “failure to thrive.” They then must fight the Zimbabwean bureaucracy to get permission to become foster parents — making weekly treks down to the child welfare offices to cajole, coax and finally charm the overworked and underpaid social workers into approving the paperwork so that they might care for and adopt this abandoned infant.
Interspersed between his graceful descriptions of life with a very ill (though HIV-negative) child, Tucker reports on the political strife of Africa, from the violent civil war in the Congo, to the terrorist attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, to the denigration of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe and the atrocity of the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. His fact-laden reportage is missing the elegant prose of his descriptions of his family’s struggles, yet it is clear and precise and compelling.
When they are finally granted permission to adopt Chipo, Tucker and his wife decide to return to the United States where he can savor playing with his daughter in their small backyard, and enjoy “listening to her laughter spill over me like warm summer rain.” In that laughter, there is love and peace and hope.