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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,058 Ratings  ·  714 Reviews
The crocodile in the title is Robert Mugabe, but the book is about far more than the tyrannical rule of Zimbabwe's longtime president. Indeed, this memoir intertwines two distinct stories, one profoundly personal, the other involving an entire civilization collapsing into ruin. In 1996, journalist Peter Godwin receives an emergency call from Africa; his father has suffered ...more
Paperback, 341 pages
Published April 10th 2008 by Back Bay Books (first published April 17th 2007)
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Jun 28, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world, auto-and-biog

For me, personally, I think this is the saddest book I have ever read.

Written by a superbly evocative writer - Africa commentator and renowned journalist,Peter Godwin - it details the trials of people living in Zimbabwe between 1996 and 2003. Parallel to this it is also a memoir of his family at this time, particularly his parents, who lived and worked in Zimbabwe for most of their adult lives. They dedicated their lives to this country. His mother was a doctor, who worked in a local hospital u
Aug 03, 2008 Spudsie rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
May 15, 2008 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jun 08, 2016 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Using his own experiences and that of his own family to illustrate the tragedy of how the ego of a vile old man and the poison of revolutionary totalitarian politics (wherever it exists in the world) has destroyed a nation once known as the bread basket of Africa.
The author covers the reign of terror begun by Robert Mugabe and his Stalinist ZANU PF since he lost a crucial referendum in 2000 and began to lose support to the social-democratic Movement for Democratic Change.

A shocking expose not on
Feb 11, 2009 Valerie rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
May 16, 2008 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2009 Elie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
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
Apr 10, 2008 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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?
Nov 14, 2011 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads, kindle
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
Jul 30, 2007 Christa rated it really liked it  ·  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
May 03, 2015 MBJ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is a memoir of Peter Godwin's life as a white child growing up in Rhodesia set against the more recent sinister backdrop of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The author straddles two continents in an effort to keep connected to his fiercely independent and ailing parents who refuse to leave their home as society and order in Zimbabwe crumble around them. On one trip home to visit his parents, Godwin learns that his father is a Jew who has hidden his identity from everyone, includi ...more
Greer Noble
Oct 06, 2013 Greer Noble rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 28, 2014 Scot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir by Peter Goodwin is exquisitely written; troubling in what it conveys about societal breakdowns, racism, and ethnic cleansing; inspiring in what it suggests about some individual acts of perseverance and charity; and informative about Africa—particularly Zimbabwe in the Mugabe years.

While the larger theme tells us the story of Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe, and how Zimbabwe evolves (or devolves, depending upon one’s perspective), the immediacy and power of the work comes from the way th
Nov 08, 2013 Margie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely well-written story about family, identity, and what we owe each other, set against the backdrop of Zimbabwe and Mugabe's dictatorship.
Lyn Elliott
Mar 26, 2015 Lyn Elliott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in modern Africa
I can't do better than to start with two of the review quotes from the book's back cover:
'A wonderful book... beautifully written, packed with insight and free of rancour' (Literary Review) and
' ...too vivid to bear and too central to our concerns to ignore' (Edmund White).

White has captured exactly how I felt about it - that the stories of devastation, loss and betrayal were almost unbearable at times, but that it was essential to go on reading to try to understand better the so-called Indigeni
Jul 16, 2011 Terry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2008 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Neeraj Bali
Jun 12, 2014 Neeraj Bali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 22, 2013 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2011 Shawn Davis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 14, 2010 Lucy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 28, 2009 Joan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 25, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 20, 2008 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 08, 2008 Shana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading an article about Chinua Achebe in the books section of The New Yorker recently, there was a mention of a particularly good book about Africa. All I could remember when I went to the bookstore was that the word crocodile was in the title. I thought the book that had been mentioned was this book; I was wrong; I'm not sorry. I really enjoyed it.

Actually, I bought this for my mom who likes it when I read her books first. I thought she'd find it interesting, and I thought I might as well. I d
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"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 about Peter Godwin...

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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. ”
“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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