Tim's Reviews > When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
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's review
Aug 22, 11


This is a much more provocative and profound narrative than I expected. The story of Zimbabwe spiraling downward under the manic ego of Mugabe is vaguely familiar to many. But this story is a personal one, where the author, Peter Godwin, tracks the descent through the lives of his parents who are white africans in the country. They painfully lose their farm, their livelihood, their way of life (his mother a long time nurse in a hospital, and father managing the large farming enterprise), and finally health as Mugabe twists a legitimate goal of land redistribution for Zimbabweans into a spoils system unabashedly reserved for his most loyal supporters and ruling clique.

Godwin - a contract writer for National Geographic, the BBC, New York Times, and the Sunday Times (of London) - admirably maintains a professional pen and eye in spite of the subject being the virtual and to a degree literal destruction of his parents and siblings. He reflects and muses on the rule of law, the loss of ethics and dignity for all involved: the "winners" of land grabbing, as well as the losers - farm workers and those wishing to see their country prosper.

The other component of the story is the discovery that his father is actually Jewish, having escaped the Holocaust where much of his own family perished, only to find himself once again the scapegoat of a governing tyrant and an indifferent world.

It is a wide ranging book, AIDS, what institutions and infrastructure mean for a country, international aid and meddling, complete with admirable references to a number of African leaders and voices of conscience most of the West has not heard of. For example, a contemporary Zimbabwe writer, Dambudzo Marechera has savaged Mugabe's ruling clique for having betrayed the "povo" (people). He has maintained resistance as well however, against an easy "binary" framework of the colonizers and and the subjects, the oppressor and victim, or the exotic and indigenous. In fact, he questions the whole foundation of Africa's newly independent states, "based as they are on those flawed colonial territories, "nations" invented by the whites. Was independence nothing more, he asked, than a rebranding of essentially the same product?"

With this moving from personal experience to historical reflection and all the pointed connections and similarities, the reader should expect to be shaken by the injustice and savageness that has brought this once proud and promising country to the ground.
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