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Love in the Driest Season

by Neely Tucker Three Rivers Press; $14

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A woman walking home from the market in Harare, Zimbabwe, parts the grass beneath a lone acacia tree to find a newborn baby girl. The girl is brought to a local orphanage, where she barely recovers from her early neglect. Three months later, she is delivered from starvation and near-certain death when she meets her future adoptive parents.

Set against the backdrop of regional conflict, political instability, and the devastating AIDS epidemic sweeping southern Africa, Love in the Driest Season is an unusual mix of journalistic reporting, personal memoir, and adoption story.

Neely Tucker, a foreign correspondent for an American newspaper, weaves a gripping tale of how he and his wife struggled to keep baby Chipo (whose name means “gift”) alive, and later fought to make Chipo their own. Tucker, a white Southerner, and his wife, Vita, an African-American, overcame racial prejudice at home only to face new instances of discrimination when trying to adopt in Zimbabwe. The couple crashes head-on into cultural biases against adoption, bureaucratic hurdles and outright hostility, and endless waiting in hallways of seemingly deserted government buildings.

During the darkest hours of their adoption odyssey, when Chipo’s future with them looked bleakest, Tucker and his wife considered adopting two other children. Tragically, both children died of preventable illnesses, and their deaths left deep scars on Tucker’s marriage. Throughout the book, Tucker explores how he and his wife are tested by their ordeal, individually and as a couple, requiring them to find strength to endure, just as Chipo had to find the strength to live.

Tucker worried that frequent exposure to horror and brutality in his professional life had adversely affected his ability to process emotions and handle stress. But this book creates a compelling portrait of the war-hardened journalist’s transformation into a vulnerable, loving parent. Finally, Love in the Driest Season is a triumphant tale of a little girl who survived despite terrible odds.

Reviewed by Sue Gainor, an adoptive parent who serves on the national board of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA). She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

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