Hannibal Free Public Library

 Love in the Driest Season

Neely Tucker

February 23, 2009

 Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker is the riveting account of how two Mississippians, newspaper reporter Tucker, who is white, and his African-American wife, Vita, adopted a baby. Shortly after their marriage, he was posted to Harare, Zimbabwe, where thousands of children have been orphaned by AIDS and extended families are overburdened with their care. One day, a newborn was rescued from abandonment in the bush and brought into the orphanage where the Tuckers were volunteering. Tiny and close to death, Chipo latched onto Neely's finger, and he fell in love with her. The couple was told that it was practically impossible for foreigners to adopt a Zimbabwean baby, but they decided to try. Neely traveled around Africa, reporting on uprisings, massacres, and genocides. Intermittently, he returned to Harare to deal with the rigid, arrogant social-welfare bureaucracy and the horrible sadness of the children dying in the understaffed orphanage. Through patience, political savvy, and the help of sympathetic social workers, he was able to get the necessary papers to adopt the child. The story offers insights into interracial marriage, African politics, and daily life in a Third World country.

 Discussion Questions

  1. How does Tuckerís childhood amid the devastating poverty and racism of rural Mississippi inform or influence his approach to Zimbabwe as an adult?
  2. What toll does living in the conditions presented by Zimbabwe exact from him and his colleagues, and is it worth it? How does his idea evolve after he falls in love with Chipo?
  3. Tucker is accused of American arrogance and racism.  How much energy does he put into disproving the accusations? With whom does he succeed? Are there any points at which he inadvertently personifies the hated American stereotype?
  4. Tucker's story graphically describes the horrors of the sub-Saharan AIDS epidemic, zeroing in on Zimbabwe, but he touches only briefly on the social mores that have prevented most of the dying from ever being tested for HIV, as well as the Western ethical conflicts that have prevented a more aggressive anti-AIDS program from being introduced from abroad. Why do you think he keeps his opinions on these matters to a minimum? Would more political editorializing detract from Chipo's story?
  5. How do the deaths of Ferai and Robert hit Tucker and Vita so hard? Are they naÔve to be shocked by these fatalities?
  6. When Chipo's HIV test comes back negative, Tucker and Vita are elated.  How would Tucker's memoir have been different if Chipo had been HIV-positive? Would their adoption process have proceeded any differently?
  7. Six months before the parliamentary elections that will likely wreck havoc on all foreign journalists remaining in the country, and at the lowest point in Tucker and Vita's seemingly endless wrangling with the welfare system, Tucker makes an uncharacteristic, almost naÔve statement: "We wanted her more than the department did and, eventually, desire trumps bureaucracy." How do you explain this burst of optimism?
  8. Tucker is forced to make a chilling decision between possibly helping thousands of unknown children and concretely rescuing one specific child.  Discuss the ethical implications of Tucker's decision.
  9. When the state-owned Sunday Mail runs an article stating that the Zimbabwean government has run out of resources with which to handle orphaned children, Tucker is floored. Can you find any instances in the United States in the last fifty years, in which the federal government encouraged the privatization of matters some people consider to be the government's responsibility?
  10. Discuss Tucker's sudden conversion to caring. Is the switch profound and permanent, or does his previous attitude linger? How does his transformation affect his ability to process stress? How does it affect his marriage?
  11. Tucker describes how, despite Mugabe's dramatic and carefully orchestrated campaigns to "whip up anti-American rancor," most Zimbabweans simply didn't seem to care. How do you explain this public apathy?
  12. Is Tuckerís attitude about family, "something that goes beyond bloodlines and shared last names," vital to successful adoption?

Adapted from http://www.bookbrowse.com/reading_guides/detail/index.cfm?book_number=1389

and School Library Journal.