Title: She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me
Author: Emma Brockes
Release Date: May 16, 2013
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5
After the death of her mother, Emma Brockes decided that she wanted to know more about the mysterious woman who raised her. After all, Paula never discussed her childhood in South Africa; the few times she alluded to it, Paula hinted at a horrible, twisted upbringing that no one should have had to endure. Emma begins digging into her mother’s past and uncovers horrors that she never knew while also beginning to understand how her mother survived.
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me is a thought-provoking memoir about a daughter’s search for her mother’s past. From the beginning, it’s clear that Brockes began researching this book as a way to feel closer to her mother. It was Brockes’ way of, not only getting to know her mother as a young girl, but also of coming to terms with her death. You can feel the author’s emotion resonating on every page of this book; throughout her research, interviews, and reconnection with family members, Emma never forgets that this is her mother’s life she’s looking at.
Paula Brockes lived an eventful life, though sadly a disturbing one as revealed in She Left Me the Gun. Her experiences, while tragically not unique, were something she kept as the deepest of secrets. Even her husband and daughter didn’t know the details of her life before she moved to England. That mystery is often what drives this memoir, to understand what happened and why Paula so abruptly left her home country. It’s interesting to see Emma journey to South Africa; her descriptions are wonderfully vivid and it’s intriguing to see the family members she meets and understand the relationships, while also trying to figure out what really happened to Paula.
While She Left Me the Gun is certainly interesting, there are some aspects of it that are difficult. First, it’s incredibly disjointed. The story is Emma’s search for her mother’s past, rather than about Paula herself. There are times when Emma uncovers big secrets, but chooses not to disclose them to the reader for the sake of narrative tension. As a result, it can be difficult to piece the story together. What’s more, Paula had a huge family and it’s difficult to keep her brothers, sisters, and other relatives straight. That being said, this is still absolutely a book worth reading, but it takes some effort.
Brockes’ easy narrative writing style in She Left Me the Gun will really draw readers in, and though it’s difficult to read at times because of the horrors Paula faced in her past, it’s also a testament to a strong woman who not only survived, but thrived. Memoir fans in general will appreciate this book; if you don’t mind hard subjects and unflinching truth, this is a great choice to pick up.