Debut memoir by Washington Post staffer Tucker describes his attempt with his wife to adopt a sick and abandoned child, setting their saga against the backdrop of Zimbabwe’s social disintegration.
Tucker had seen his share of desperate locales during his years as a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa for the Detroit Free Press. A white man who grew up in Mississippi, Tucker in 1998 was living with his Detroit-born, African-American wife Vita in Harare. The Zimbabwean capital was devastated by AIDS: perhaps as much as one-quarter of the population between 25 and 44 had the disease, young parents were dying in droves, and the nation’s traditional social welfare net, the extended family, was overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of abandoned children. Neely and Vita were working as volunteers at the Chinyaradzo Children’s Home when an infant girl, only days old, was brought in. She had been left in chest-high grass a mile from the nearest village. Tucker’s description of their efforts to adopt Chipo (as the orphanage’s matron named her) limns a situation that was part theater of the absurd, part theater of cruelty. Social norms and suspicions conspired to thwart the couple’s every good intention; the simple fact was, he writes, “[Zimbabwe President] Mugabe’s administration wanted very little to do with Americans” and was particularly hostile to foreign journalists. Files were lost and found, the Tuckers were accused of trying to buy the child, the police harassed them. Neely’s position as a correspondent became ever more tenuous; he ultimately chucked his job to concentrate on the adoption process. His tale of love in a time of great political unease has a happy ending when the couple finally flies out of Harare with Chipo eight days before Zimbabweans reject Mugabe’s autocratic new constitution and his followers erupt in violence.
The resilient lilt to Tucker’s writing allows him, and the reader, to negotiate even the direst moments without despondency.