She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me

( 18 )

Overview

"One of those memoirs that remind you why you liked memoirs in the first place... It has the density of a very good novel... As you do with the best writers, you feel lucky to be in Ms. Brockes’s company." —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

A chilling work of psychological suspense and forensic memoir, She Left Me the Gun is a tale of true transformation: the story of a young woman who reinvented herself so completely that her previous life seemed simply to vanish, and of a ...

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Overview

"One of those memoirs that remind you why you liked memoirs in the first place... It has the density of a very good novel... As you do with the best writers, you feel lucky to be in Ms. Brockes’s company." —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

A chilling work of psychological suspense and forensic memoir, She Left Me the Gun is a tale of true transformation: the story of a young woman who reinvented herself so completely that her previous life seemed simply to vanish, and of a daughter who transcends her mother’s fears and reclaims an abandoned past.

“One day I will tell you the story of my life,” promises Emma Brockes’s mother, “and you will be amazed.” Brockes grew up hearing only pieces of her mother’s past—stories of a rustic childhood in South Africa, glimpses of a bohemian youth in London—and yet knew that crucial facts were still in the dark. A mystery to her friends and family, Paula was clearly a strong, self-invented woman; glamorous, no-nonsense, and frequently out of place in their quaint English village. In awe of Paula’s larger-than-life personality, Brockes never asked why her mother emigrated to England or why she never returned to South Africa; never questioned the source of her mother’s strange fears or tremendous strengths.

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. Brockes soon learns that Paula’s father was a drunk megalomaniac who terrorized Paula and her seven half-siblings for years. After finally mustering the courage to take her father to court, Paula is horrified to see the malevolent man vindicated of all charges. As Brockes discovers, this crushing defeat left Paula with a choice: take her own life, or promise herself never to be intimidated or unhappy again. Ultimately she chooses life and happiness by booking one-way passage to London—but not before shooting her father five times, and failing to kill him. Smuggling the fateful gun through English customs would be Paula’s first triumph in her new life.

She Left Me the Gun carries Brockes to South Africa to meet her seven aunts and uncles, weighing their stories against her mother’s silences. 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 in buried government archives the court records proving his murder conviction years before he first married. Brockes also learns of the turncoat stepmother who may have perjured herself to save her husband, dooming Paula and her siblings to the machinations of their hated father.

Most of all, She Left Me the Gun reveals how Paula reinvented herself to lead a full, happy life. As she follows her mother’s footsteps back to South Africa, Brockes begins to find the wellsprings of her mother’s strength, the tremendous endurance which allowed Paula to hide secrets from even her closest friends and family. But as the search through cherished letters and buried documents deepens, Brockes realizes with horror that her mother’s great success as a parent was concealing her terrible past—and that unearthing these secrets threatens to undo her mother’s work.

A beguiling and unforgettable journey across generations and continents, She Left Me the Gun chronicles Brockes’s efforts to walk the knife-edge between understanding her mother’s unspeakable traumas and embracing the happiness she chose for her daughter.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"One day I will tell you the story of my life," Emma Brockes' mother told her, "and you will be amazed." If wasn't only after her mom's death and a trip to Johannesburg that Emma learned the full story. "Your grandfather," one relative there told her, "was a pedophile who cross-examined us in court and got off Scot-free." On the day that her alcoholic/drug addict father was cleared of child abuse charges, Emma's mother Paula delivered her own justice: She shot him five times, not killing him, and then fled to Great Britain. In She Left Me the Gun, award-winning journalist Emma Brockes offers a moving portrait of a brave woman who recreated herself in a new land. Editor's recommendation.

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
You could slide this memoir, in mass-market paperback form, with a lurid cover, into one of those rusty, rotating wire book racks you used to find in the back of small-town drugstores…and few buyers would be disappointed. She Left Me the Gun brings the tabloid mire. It also happens to be full of intellect and feeling and dartlike expression. It's one of those memoirs that remind you why you liked memoirs in the first place, back before every featherhead in your writers' group was trying to peddle one. It has the density of a very good novel.
New York Times - Dwight Garner
It also happens to be full of intellect and feeling and dartlike expression. It's one of those memoirs that remind you why you liked memoirs in the first place, back before every featherhead in your writers' group was trying to peddle one. It has the density of a very good novel.
Library Journal
Many families have secrets, but the one Brockes uncovered after the death of her rather mysterious mother, Paula, was a shocker. Raised in South Africa with an alcoholic father who roundly abused her and her seven half-siblings, Paula fled to London—but not before shooting her father five times yet failing to kill him. An award-winning journalist—she's been named Young Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year in Britain—Brockes should tell this story well.
Kirkus Reviews
The riveting memoir about how a prizewinning British journalist reclaimed her mother's traumatic past. Brockes' mother, Paula, was notoriously reticent about the years she had spent growing up in Durban, South Africa. Her family and friends knew that Paula had expatriated to England in 1960 for political reasons but not much else. Among the few things she brought with her from South Africa was a handgun that Brockes discovered "wrapped in a pair of knickers." Paula considered the gun among her prized possessions and bequeathed it to Brockes without any explanation of why it meant so much to her. After Paula died of cancer, her daughter decided to learn about the South African side of her family and the life story her mother had suppressed. A database search in England unearthed evidence that her mother's father, Jimmy, had been on trial for murder six years before Paula had been born. Despite misgivings that continued research into her mother's past was "unfair, unethical [and] possibly unforgivable," Brockes traveled to Johannesburg to talk to the maternal relatives she had never met and search through government archives for more details about her grandfather. Her aunts and uncles remembered the family patriarch as a drunken "psychopath" who brutalized his children. Paula, on the other hand, was the heroic elder sibling who called her younger brothers and sisters her babies and tried to protect them against her father's savagery by shooting him. Court records revealed still more: that Jimmy had also been tried and later acquitted for molesting his daughters. The story of Brockes' quest to understand her mother's past is powerful on its own, but the backdrop against which most of the narrative unfolds--a country with its own history of rapacious violence--makes the book even more poignant and unforgettable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594204593
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/16/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 502,276
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

EMMA BROCKES writes for The Guardian’s Weekend magazine and has contributed to The New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle. She is the winner of two British Press Awards—Young Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year—and while at Oxford won the Philip Geddes Memorial Prize for Journalism. Her book What Would Barbra Do? How Musicals Saved My Life was serialized on the BBC. She lives in New York.

www.emmabrockes.com
@emmabrockes

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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(11)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

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2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 23, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    She Left Me the Gun is a truly fascinating biography. How and Wh

    She Left Me the Gun is a truly fascinating biography. How and Why Paula reinvented herself is an amazing story.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 24, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is an excellent book; everything you want in a memoir - riv

    This is an excellent book; everything you want in a memoir - riveting characters and plenty of surprises. I fully applaud the author for a memorable book.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I couldn't put this book down. From start to finish it is an ama

    I couldn't put this book down. From start to finish it is an amazing emotional ride. I highly recommend this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    If she'd really left the gun I might have used it on my nook

    Read the reviews, eagerly started it & plodded along throughout this overly long, overly dull recounting of the author's mother's turbulent past at the hands of a predatory sexual deviant . Yes it is a sad story, but it takes so long in the telling that my eyes were glazing over & I had to force myself to finish it. more could have been done to move the book along, making it far more impactual, engrossing & to the point. I understand the author was on a "journey of discovery" but she lost her way in trying to make pages for a book. I would NOT recommend this book at all & I read & enjoy most every genre.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2013

    Now that I've read the entire story in the online Overview, I do

    Now that I've read the entire story in the online Overview, I don't need to buy the book.

    3 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I couldn't put this book down. The author knows how to capture

    I couldn't put this book down. The author knows how to capture the reader's attention and never let go. It's a bizarre story that will keep you turning the pages. A great book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    Interesting memior.

    There are still some questions in my mind after finishing this book. I think it would be a good book club selection.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Misty

    Waits.

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  • Posted June 24, 2013

    Mildly interesting and boring

    Half way through the book and totally bored. Author could have wrapped this one up in 1/2 the pages. Everyone has a family history and not finding this one particularly interesting or entertaining. Only read rest of it because I made the mistake of purchasing it. I'd have thought a journalist would have been far more specific and curious in her meets and interviews with family.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    Interesting read

    Complicated story of a daughters search for her mothers history and how she came through it. Story of disfuntion, not your light summer read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    Excellent remarkable

    Rings true on each page
    Wonderfully done

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    Ruined

    This sounded really interesting.....except for the fact the the overview tells the whole story. Now im no longer interested in reading it. Thanks.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted June 12, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

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