When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

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4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  4,558 ratings  ·  640 reviews
After his father's heart attack in 1984, Peter Godwin began a series of pilgrimages back to Zimbabwe, the land of his birth, from Manhattan, where he now lives. On these frequent visits to check on his elderly parents, he bore witness to Zimbabwe's dramatic spiral downwards into the
jaws of violent chaos, presided over by an increasingly enraged dictator. And yet long after...more
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2006)
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Spudsie
Aug 03, 2008 Spudsie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in Zimbabwe's political landscape
This book will haunt you. It haunts me.

I was in a hotel room in Chicago trying to get ready for an early morning conference session. I was watching “Morning Joe” on MSNBC when Peter Godwin came on. I was not familiar with him, but listening to him talk about Zimbabwe intrigued me. Despite purloining 8 million vendor pens at the vendor hall the previous day, I could not quickly locate a pen and paper to write down the title of his book. Thanks goodness for technology! I grabbed my Blackberry and...more
Margitte
Peter Goodwin writes a detailed memoir of his life in Zimbabwe, his father's history as a Jew in disguise, and the turmoil of his Zimbabwean heritage as a white member of a minority group. The story is comprehensive in that it touches on all the aspects, although not in tedious details, defining Africa as it is today and how it came about. He includes a lot of details of various aspects of the madness happening in Zimbabwe which he derived from various articles he wrote for different media outle...more
Pamela
The author, Peter Godwin, grew up as a white Zimbabwean, just like Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Lets Go to the Dogs tonight. He brilliantly shares his experience living under Robert Mugabe, who has been the country's dicator since the 1970's.

My problem, however, is how he portrays his parents, and their near-saintliness. They are/were clearly warm people with an impressive degree of moral courage.

But he never addresses the fact that Zimbabwe -- formerly Rhodesia, was a European colony bef...more
Gillian Stokes
I have just finished reading "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun" and am assuaging the tears with a good glass of Johnny Black and a CD of my favourite ballet classics ....guaranteed to calm me down. There are so many reasons why I cried. I cried for times past and in fear of times to come. I cried because of the similarities. I come from a pan African family, my brothers born in Zim, me in Malawi and my sister in Zambia ( Daddy was a soldier and a traveling man) I cried when you described your fathe...more
DoctorM
A very powerful and haunting and heartbreaking memoir, a story both about the collapse of Zimbabwe into dictatorship and chaos since the late 1990s and about identity and belonging.

Godwin writes as a white African, as a boy born in the old Rhodesia and raised during the Rhodesian Bush War--- what's now the Chimurenga War, the War of Liberation, in the new Zimbabwe. Godwin served briefly in the Rhodesian security forces before going off to Cambridge and returning to southern Africa first as a bar...more
Kristen
Godwin's "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun" is not only compelling and well-written, but more timely than ever. A memoir of his adult life after having left Zimbabwe, the place of his birth (he is a journalist for National Geographic and a slew of other top-notch publications), Godwin painfully portrays the experience of white Africans in Zimbabwe, and his own family's history in their journey to Africa. It gives an insider's view of Mugabe's reign of terror, and the utter chaos that has enveloped...more
Valerie
Feb 11, 2009 Valerie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mark, Matt, Katharine
Recommended to Valerie by: Bookshop Santa Cruz
Shelves: africa
In the early nineties I spent some time in Zimbabwe, and I have always wanted to go back. Although there were hints of instability, mostly having to do with currency exchange, the people were well fed, well educated, and the country was beautiful. I have been looking for an explanation, a reason for the death of that Zimbabwe. The dire news of cholera and economic collapse, the continued spread of political evil...I picked this book up because it covers the late nineties and early part of this m...more
Wendy
This is my type of book - an entertaining book in which I learn so much about places that I would like to know more about. This memoir about the author's home in Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwae. The majority of the story takes place during the 1990's and 2000's during Robert Mugabe's presidency - which still continues today. Political fraud, beatings, slavery, killings, etc. were rampant, and we see how much damage was done to a once-thriving economy. Many white Africans lived on commercial far...more
Chrissie
I was debating on whether to read this book, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, or the author's book on his childhood growing up in Rhodesia Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africafirst. This one focuses upon his father's life in Zimbabwe, and how he ended up there. I believe I made the wrong choice.

It took me a very long time to care for the family. The first third focuses upon political turmoil and history of Rhodesia and how it became Zimbabwe. Every chapter is dated. The first being J...more
Christa
Jul 30, 2007 Christa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to understand the current situation in Zimbabwe
My dad brought this back from SA for me, and it was funny because I'd just finished reading Mukiwa by the same author. Mukiwa is about Peter Godwin's childhood in Zimbabwe, and this book covers the death of his father there in the period from the late 90's to 2006. Peter Godwin is a journalist and it shows in how the book is written. I choose not to hold it against him.
Still, for some reason I couldn't read this book without my eyes tearing up. Seriously, I read almost the entire book trying to...more
Kelly
Apr 10, 2008 Kelly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kelly by: The New York Times
After reading this book, I am actually unsure of where I stand on the issue of land redistribution. I recognize the value white farmers added to Zimbabwe's economy, but on the other hand I am suspicious of, you know, colonialism. As I was reading, I keep thinking, where's this guy's punchline? Has this guy really written a book completely bashing land redistribution even in the face of the fact that 70% of arable land in Zimbabwe was owned by whites who made up less than 1% of the population?
Elie
Godwin tries too hard to tacitly excuse himself and other whites who stayed on in Zimbabwe after majority rule. He glosses over fighting on the wrong side of Zimbabwe's war for independence and never properly questions his privileged upbringing and the British status quo. Most of the examples he employs to gain our sympathy involve white farmers loosing their land and family photographs; the stories that include native Africans often end with them stealing something or running away. For someone...more
Greer Noble
Gives one a very good idea of how traumatic and depressing it was for Peter's family and families like Peter's. How hopeless, despairing and often frightening the situation was and still is. How the world stands by does nothing. A very human story, a story of destiny, the struggles and courage of those brave souls in the face of utter despair and hopelessness. Well portrayed and an easy read.
Margie
Extremely well-written story about family, identity, and what we owe each other, set against the backdrop of Zimbabwe and Mugabe's dictatorship.
Terry
This is a powerful and sad book of the history of a family wrapped in the history of Zimbabwe. The memoir came out in 2006 and details how Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Africa now has declining life expectancies, a terrible AIDS epidemic, has driven all white farmers off their land, and is now in the throes of famine. More than 1/2 the population of the country (dated from 1980) has fled Zimbabwe. All of this is due to the slide from democracy at the time of independence in 1980 to the terri...more
Susan
I read Godwin’s earlier memoir 10 years ago so naturally wanted to read this one, though I wondered what a man younger than I by a decade or more could have to write two memoirs about. The answer is “plenty”. This one is focuses on the period between 1996 and 2004 when Robert Mugabe is encouraging the “wovits” (supposedly vets of the civil war but mostly thugs and opportunists) to confiscate land from white settlers. Mugabe seems to want to get rid of whites in Zimbabwe and to make what was a co...more
Book Concierge
3.5***

Peter Godwin was born and raised in Rhodesia. He was away at Oxford when the war for independence was finalized and the country became Zimbabwe. He returned in 1982, working for a time as a lawyer, but settling on journalism and moving away from his homeland. His parents remained in Zimbabwe, their failing health and increased frailty mirroring the slow destruction of a once-vibrant economy into anarchy and destruction. This is Godwin’s memoir of the years from 1996, when his father had hi...more
Neeraj Bali
When I began reading it, I was cautioned that this is a White man’s version of contemporary Zimbabwe. Even if I assume that it does suffer from that implied infirmity of bias and discount for it, the narrative is moving, heartbreaking and compelling. It rings with credibility. It is a tale the twin and parallel furrows of despair and love, of hopelessness and courage, cruelty and generosity. And yet, this is no outpouring of bitterness alone; just beneath the surface hope for humanity is visible...more
Sue
Peter Godwin is on assignment in South Africa for National Geographic when he learns that his father has had a heart attack and his presence is requested. He flies home to his parents' place in Zimbabwe to spend time with family and his father recovers. Over the next several years he makes many more trips back to Zimbabwe to spend time with his aging parents and sees the free-fall of the country under Mugabe's regime. It is during one of those trips that his mother shares with him a family secr...more
Shawn Davis
Zimbabwe is a mess. There's no effective way to argue that statement. But is *why* is it a mess? Can it effectively heal? What does what happened in Zimbabwe mean for the rest of Africa?

Peter Godwin was born in Rhodesia - what became Zimbabwe. His family remained in-country after Mugabe came to power, and while Godwin himself moved to America and traveled the world as a journalist, he repeatedly came back to care for his parents and witness the events overtaking his home. Along the way, he learn...more
Lucy
May 14, 2010 Lucy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
After reading this book I don't know how anyone could live in Zimbabwe. The depravation is horrid, not just for displaced whites but for blacks as well. What Mugabe did to that country is unforgivable. Having flown over, I saw for myself the ruin of the agricultural economy. Land that had been thriving farms lies fallow. Having only seen the airport in Harare, I had no idea what life was like in the capital city. Now that I do know, from reading this book, I am amazed that the city exists at all...more
Joan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julie
This book was a follow on from Mukiwa (A white boy in Africa ) which followed the creation of Zimbabwe and the end of the white ruled Rhodesia, the years of civil war and the unseen massacre in Matabeleland which the author was one of the first western journalists to try and bring this horror to the western world. Now Mugabe is in power, this is a story about a countries slide into anarchy and self destruction, while the mad man at the top sits and laughs while his people , black and white starv...more
Eric
Initially, I thought this book was going to be another white colonial (hence patronizing) view of Africa, a la Kapucinski or Theroux, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was much more—and much better—than I ever expected. There is a nice triumvirate of storytelling here that when the disparate strands are linked together as they are in this book, pack a punch that none of the three lines alone could have done. Peter Godwin IS white, but he was born and raised in Zimbabwe (nee Rhodesia)...more
Matt
Favorite passages:

It's always instructive to observe the life cycle of the First World aid worker. A wary enthusiasm blooms into an almost messianic sense of what might be possible. Then, as they bump up against the local cultural limits of acceptable change, comes the inevitable disappointment, which can harden into cynicism and even racism, until they are no better than the resident whites they have initially disparaged… irrationality (p.285)

Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion...more
Jeannie
I'm not quite sure why my summer reading has included so many serious themes, but this book was amazing. I seem to be reading the series in the wrong order which I wouldn't recommend, but both this and The Fear have been powerfully written. The physical setting of Zimbabwe is in most ways so foreign to many of us, but the emotional setting is so much closer especially as we contemplate our own families. If the decay of Mugabe's regime and aging parents isn't enough, the Holocaust is thrown into...more
Evelyn
This was a well written, highly engaging book, I thought. Though the deep family secret seemed rather obvious to me from the get go, the author's style as well as the sympathetic but never idealized portrait he paints of his parents, sister, his own family and the increasing chaos that is life in Zimbabwe make one want to keep reading no matter how troubled the Godwin family's life there becomes. And as anyone following contemporary history and economics knows, life in Zimbabwe has become pathet...more
Jenn
"You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal.
Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.”

“They all shout greetings back, and the column of women at the back begin an impromptu dance and a rhythmic...more
Cameo
This was an amazing, eye opening memoir about modern day Zimbabwe. I had no idea that things like this happened in our world today, I guess it's just my naivety. I haven't ever kept up with the political happenings there, so it was all new information to me. It was especially crazy for me because I've been to Zimbabwe, back in 1996 before all the craziness started there, and it was surreal to read about places like Victoria Falls where I visited and to hear about the disheartening changes that h...more
Judy A
Goodwin becomes a despised minority in what is now Zimbabwe. The result of colonialism by Europeans on Africans and the horrors that went with it, is an emotional and historical read. Goodwin his life after his parents moved from England to Rhodesia, and the life of a white African during "Jambanja time" as life is turned upside down. Living on besieged land, Goodwin recounts the events that happened to Zimbabwe over the thirty years. Within his family is another story, his sister runs into a fa...more
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59543
"Peter Godwin was born and raised in Africa. He studied law at Cambridge University, and international relations at Oxford. He is an award winning foreign correspondent, author, documentary-maker and screenwriter.

After practicing human rights law in Zimbabwe, he became a foreign and war correspondent, and has reported from over 60 countries, including wars in: Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe...more
More about Peter Godwin...
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe Rhodesians Never Die Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0 Information Literacy Beyond Library 2.0

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“I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical – a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely.

Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems.

In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal.

Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.

For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age.

At least you used to.

But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake’s head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself. ”
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“It's always instructive to observe the life cycle of the First World aid worker. A wary enthusiasm blooms into an almost messianic sense of what might be possible. Then, as they bump up against the local cultural limits of acceptable change, comes the inevitable disappointment, which can harden into cynicism and even racism, until they are no better than the resident whites they have initially disparaged.” 2 likes
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