When Emma Brockes was ten years old, her mother said 'One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.' Growing up in a tranquil English village, Emma knew very little of her mother's life before her.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes
"A beautiful, wise book. It deals with the some of the grimmest aspects of human experience, but it is also one of the most genuinely up-lifting works I have read in years. Emma Brockes' superb, clear-eyed narration is an object lesson for any aspiring memoir-writer. She Left Me the Gun deserves to become a classic." Zoe Heller When Emma Brockes was ten years old, her mother said 'One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.' Growing up in a tranquil English village, Emma knew very little of her mother's life before her. She knew Paula had grown up in South Africa and had seven siblings. She had been told stories about deadly snakes and hailstones the size of golf balls. There was mention, once, of a trial. But most of the past was a mystery. When her mother dies of cancer, Emma - by then a successful journalist at the Guardian - is free to investigate the untold story. Her search begins in the Colindale library but then takes her to South Africa, to the extended family she has never met and their accounts of a childhood so different to her own. She encounters versions of the life her mother chose to leave behind - and realises what a gift her mother gave her. Part investigation, part travelogue, part elegy, She Left Me the Gun is a gripping, funny and clear-eyed account of a writer's search for her mother's story.
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A beautiful, wise book. It deals with the some of the grimmest aspects of human experience, but it is also one of the most genuinely up-lifting works I have read in years. Emma Brockes' superb, clear-eyed narration is an object lesson for any aspiring memoir-writer. She Left Me the Gun deserves to become a classic. -- Zoe Heller This astonishing, unsettling book examines the relationship between knowledge and love. Vigorously unsentimental, deeply absorbing, and written with fierce wit, It is an unstinting look at what it means to be innocent, at any stage of life, and how obsessively we all seek and avoid the many faces of truth. -- Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree She Left Me the Gun is quite simply an extraordinary book. In the hands of any halfway decent author, this would be an incredible story: a mother with a mysterious South African past who arrived in England in her early twenties with a beautiful antique handgun and a mission to forget who she used to be. In the hands of a writer as gifted as Emma Brockes, it's basically the perfect memoir: a riveting, authentic tale elegantly told. -- Viv Groskop Sunday Telegraph Emma Brockes sets out on a delicate journey to uncover a secret locked in the heart of her own family's darkness. A harrowing tale of murder and incest emerges, unfolding by stages in this utterly compelling psychological memoir. -- John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil The late Nora Ephron suggested the title for Emma Brockes' She Left Me the Gun. Ephron ... was as smart as they come in Hollywood and you only need to read the opening chapters to understand why she took such a close interest in the career of this remarkable young writer and Guardian journalist ... It isn't just the story itself that sets this book apart. Brockes's prose is potent enough to do justice to the power of her insights. And although she is very good at maintaining the tension in the detective part of the story, she has an even more important ability to keep up the emotional suspense. Ephron, her mentor, would have approved. -- Christena Appleyard Literary Review [A] courageous, clear-sighted book, which shifts between memoir and elegy as it examines the persistence of family secrets and the fragile interface between innocence and knowledge. -- Elizabeth Lowry Guardian The resulting memoir is an exemplary family history and immensely brave. It is one thing to delve into dusty archives in Pretoria, "each page containing the split-second possibility of an explosion in my face", but quite another to sit with aunts and uncles you've never met ("a wacky bunch") and ask them to recall a childhood lived in fear and that was exposed in court ... Brockes's descriptions of South Africa and her newly discovered family (towards whom she is loyal and generously affectionate) are astute and, one feels, tempered by the tightly coiled wayward nature of the freshly grief-stricken. It makes the slow pace of the revelations all the more honourable and heartfelt. The result is a wise, tender letter of love to a mother and her incredible sense of love and -necessary self-sufficiency. -- Helen Davies Sunday Times An amazing and harrowing story. In Emma Brockes's consummate, Joan Didionesque prose, it becomes a surpassingly rich meditation on family, endurance, secrecy, trauma, guilt, strength and love ... Intensely personal, but it is also a beautifully written and, ultimately, a redemptive book: deeply impressive, deeply painful, deeply true. -- Kevin Power Sunday Business Post She Left Me The Gun is a triumph for three reasons. The first is the voice. Brockes is often very funny ... Then there is the material itself - not just the story of Paula's childhood but that of the lives of her extraordinary siblings ... Finally, there is Brockes's fearlessness and her resistance to glib interpretation of the facts that are often tantalisingly opaque. -- Claire Lowdon New Statesman Here we have a memoir, detective story and love letter revolving around a violent alcoholic and paedophile - the author's grandfather. Jimmy's crimes and their repercussions were so horrendous that at times one physically recoils from the page. It is a measure of Emma Brockes's artfulness and sensitivity that she has fashioned her material into an enjoyable narrative. -- Sara Wheeler Observer The story itself is a total wow - thrilling, dark, brave and so intense that if it were fiction no-one would believe it. But the writing itself is just so crisp and insightful... I'm not sure I'd have the bravery to read my way through the narrative if it weren't for Emma Brockes's own strength and trustworthiness as a narrator. -- Bidisha The fantastic She Left Me the Gun ... this consummate piece of writing, originating from the death of her mother, manages to encompass memoir, family history, travel writing, investigative journalism and a moving meditation on grief and loss ... Heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure. -- Doug Johnstone Big Issue in Scotland
About Emma Brockes
Emma Brockes writes for the Guardian Weekend magazine and contributes 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 she won the Philip Geddes Memorial Prize for Journalism. She is the author of one previous book - What Would Barbra Do? - about her love of musicals. She lives in New York.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes
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Faber & Faber
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