Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution
by Luisita López Torregrosa
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy received from publisher via TLC Book Tours
Read September 2012
In the years since that first letter came, postmarked New Delhi and written on pale lavender Claridges Hotel stationery, I have begun this story a hundred times, and each time I was afraid. (p. 3)
So begins Luisita López Torregrosa’s engaging memoir Before the Rain, and as soon as read that first line I knew I was in for a treat. The book tells the story of her love affair with a woman: fellow journalist Elizabeth Whitney, as well as a place: Manila, Philippines.
Torregrosa is a former editor at the New York Times and has the writing skills to uphold the reputation of that venerable institution. Her writing is at its best when she is setting a scene, and the reader will find herself transported. For instance, in a passage where she imagines what Elizabeth is seeing on assignment in New Delhi:
There was an earthen hue to the city: colonial grays against the stark desert red of government mausoleums gave New Delhi an austerity far removed from the steel and glass and flashing neon of the modern world. Deeper into the city, Old Delhi reeked of death. Filthy alleys, foul food markets, vegetables and spoiled meat and chickens spread out in the muck. Flies crawled over everything, and children with runny noses and muddy hands, moaning and whining, pulled at your clothes, kissing your feet. Multitudes spilling out from crumbling buildings, from stores, from buses, from brothels and mosques, taking up every centimeter of city space, all yelling, gesticulating, chattering and chanting in one momental human chorus. There were no brilliant colors, only a pastel wash over all of it against a soil the shade of dried blood. (p. 24)
Descriptions like this appear throughout the book and were my favorite parts. I didn’t have to take notes while reading because the only word that would come to me when I read those passages was ‘lush.’ I was swept away again when Torregrosa travels to Manila later on to be with Elizabeth, and I could feel the love and comfort the author felt within the city. As a travel memoir, and even as a love story for Manila, Before the Rain is a roaring success.
The love story written about Elizabeth, however, was a bit more illusive. I never got a clear idea of Elizabeth–of who she was, of what Torregrosa loved about her, of what made the author so happy to be with the woman she loved. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Torregrosa was in love with her; it was more that even when I was reading about the happy times the two spent together I could feel Torregrosa’s pain over the end of their relationship.
In fact, the best writing about their relationship comes after they have broken up. It was like the author was finally able to shake off the pain of remembering just how wonderful it was to be together and felt more comfortable remembering the hard times. Despite the reserve in these parts, I never doubted the love the two women shared.
Recommended: If you enjoy travel memoirs and/or heart-felt love stories.