Out of Sync: A Memoir
by Belinda Nicoll

Belinda Nicoll, 2012. ISBN 978-0-985-57130-6.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 09/10/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Relationships

Two features of Belinda Nicoll's memoir, Out of Sync, first caught my eye: she immigrated from South Africa, a country I've visited and remain curious about, and she and her husband landed at JFK International Airport on the morning of September 11, 2001. I immediately downloaded the book. Those two items were a small, but compelling part of the story. Fundamentally, this is a book about hope, growth, and transformation, but Nicoll's path to personal peace is contorted and full of tension and plot twists, so it held my attention.

Her story begins in South Africa, where Nicoll was the unexpected youngest child in an Afrikaner family. She grew up playing with the black house servant's daughters and had mystical experiences involving a spirit she knew as the Serpent Goddess, who promised to tell her "the secrets of the universe." Unfortunately this promise was long delayed—the Serpent Goddess soon faded into the background for decades. At the tender age of 19, she became the trophy wife of an attorney and mother of two children. Eventually she began working, rising rapidly through the ranks in an advertising firm where she met her second husband, Bruce.

The main story focuses on her gradual personal growth within the tumultuous framework of this second marriage. The tumult sprang partly from numerous factors out of her control, and partly from old baggage. Right after their hastily arranged wedding, she and Bruce flew to San Francisco where he had accepted a vice presidency with an international pharmaceutical advertising agency, and promised that she'd be able to easily resume her career. The adjustment was difficult for her. Bruce was sucked into the maelstrom of product introduction craziness, soon working twelve hour days, seven days a week, leaving her to find her way with just a visitor visa containing "spouse" classification not even sufficient for opening a bank account.

I shared Nicoll's despair of Bruce's endless hours at the office livened by the gaiety of work-related social life while she sat home without credentials for finding a job and with the constant frustrations of adjusting to life in a strange country. The State Department compounded the problem with endless delays in issuing green cards. It was hard to imagine a good outcome for this story, especially as it also included her growing sense of guilt about essentially abandoning her young adult children, and her frustration as she discovered that her home country was becoming almost as strange to her as her new one. The redeeming factor was the availability of the rich cultural climate of the Bay Area.

Geographical fixes were no solution. They later both got jobs in a newly formed company in Saratoga Springs, but that ended in disaster. From there they moved to Raleigh, which had a new set of challenges, causing pressures within the marriage to intensify before they moved to Ohio, where they still reside. Hope never died, however, and Nicoll eventually came to grips with change, sharing a few of her secrets in the process.

This is a gutsy story, one that must have been difficult to write. The intimacy of Nicoll's personal revelations seems unflinchingly honest, and writing about those tough times meant reliving them. I suspect it also helped heal them. I found hope in her courage, yet was deeply saddened by the obstructive role our State Department played in this situation and countless others like it.

Read an excerpt from this book (11MB pdf).

Belinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa. She expatriated to the United States in 2001, became a resident in 2004, and has held dual citizenship since 2010. She and her husband, Bruce, love traveling and share a keen interest in cultural diversity. Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing. She was a talent agent and drama coach before venturing into the advertising world as copywriter and client service director. These days, she works as a teacher of creative writing and will soon complete her first novel, an epic mystery set in South Africa and the U.S., spanning four generations and exploring concepts of shamanism, archaeology, and intergenerational shame.

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