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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

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4.14  ·  Rating details ·  7,546 ratings  ·  801 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 thejaws of violent chaos, presided over by an increasingly enraged dictator. And yet long after ...more
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Little Brown and Company (first published May 27th 1993)
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4.14  · 
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 ·  7,546 ratings  ·  801 reviews


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Caroline
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: auto-and-biog, world
.

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
...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
Spudsie
Jul 05, 2008 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
...more
Pamela
May 15, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Cheryl
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Some of Prince Biyela's people, the Zulus, and the Vendas too, believe that a solar eclipse occurs when a crocodile eats the sun. This celestial crocodile, they say, briefly consumes our life-giving star as a warning that he is much displeased with the behavior of man below. It is the very worst of omens."

The title of this memoir foreshadows the uproot of life for the Godwin family, during Zimbabwe's upheaval. Peter Godwin has written for many major publications like New York Times Magazine and
...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
Elie
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa, non-fiction
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
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
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
Hai Quan
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a bittersweet recount of the author childhood to adulthood as a Brit whose parents also Brit's in Zimbabwe.
It detailed all the complexities of the black-and-white relationship, sometime was harmonious, at other time strained with a lots of love-hate interactions, laced with conflict , bloody violent .
While the white population, composed of mostly farmers were subjected to mob injustice for which I abhor , but I can understand , if not sympathize to the indignation of the natives whose an
...more
Kristen
Apr 15, 2008 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
Valerie
Feb 07, 2009 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
Lisa
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. Godwin does an excellent job of combining the personal and political in this gripping memoir. He writes about caring for his aging parents who live in Zimbabwe, mostly long distance, as their country collapses around them. On his visits, even a trip to the grocery store becomes treacherous. He writes about learning that his father is Polish and Jewish, not English as he was always told - and discovers that most of his father's family died in the Holocaust. He also vividly describes th ...more
Wendy
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Christa
Jun 15, 2007 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
...more
Kelly
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it
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?
Margie
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well-written story about family, identity, and what we owe each other, set against the backdrop of Zimbabwe and Mugabe's dictatorship.
Gerry
This book continues 10 years later where Mukiwa finished. It is a microcosm historical reference to the effects of what good white Zimbabweans wanted for their nation among all persons and yet as the story unfolds the scenes recalled, written, and accounted for show nothing but retribution by the Mugabe political machine against the white citizens who provided medicine, farming techniques, and educational institutions. A fully disclosed interview by Peter Godwin’s sister Georgina provides an add ...more
Susan
Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dixie Diamond
This was both very interesting and rather tiresome.

It's a memoir, not a history book, so it's to be expected that it emphasizes the writer's perspective and feelings more than the facts of what was going on. Godwin's writing style is sensitive but mercifully not prone to histrionics.

Nevertheless--and I realize the irony of this being written by a white American--it is hard to feel too sympathetic towards white Zimbabwean colonists and what sounds like an insular, patronizing, big-fish-in-a-small
...more
Greer Noble
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Linda
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found this book very interesting. Godwin and his family aren’t perfect, but they are certainly sympathetic. The memoir is well written, and I learned a great deal about Zimbabwe.

A major part of the book chronicles the plight of the white, middle-class, elite in Zimbabwe. Godwin’s sympathies are fully in their camp when Mugabe targets their land for redistribution. Godwin makes a good case that what happened to white, land-owners was not only bad for them but bad for Zimbabwe. The land redistri
...more
Adam Curtis
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book, but it was quite humbling to read. The author, Peter Godwin, is an accomplished journalist who knows how to keep a reader's interest as he covers a very personal version of recent history in his native country of Zimbabwe. The humbling part for me was to realize just how little I know about Zimbabwe. The events that Godwin recounts begin in 1996 and go through 2004, all very recent history. And yet I knew nothing about the dramatic descent of this economically successf ...more
Andrea
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A complete collision of incredible, gut-wrenching, heart-heavy movements and emotions in this little book. Written as a memoir of a journalist who grew up white in Zimbabwe... seeing his country, economy, culture, family and friends disintegrate at the hands of evil, selfish power. If you want an intimate account of how wrong government can get, read this. If you are hungry for an account of the ex-pat life... driven to make the world better, read this. If you are interested in family saga and h ...more
Kim
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Zimbabwe- I found this book very interesting. Honestly, I feel ashamed for saying this but I had no idea about the details of the land reform and the instability of the residents after Mugabe began ruling. Peter's account is about the visits he made to his parents while he was living in the US. I read this book very quickly because the Author did a great job in being detailed enough without going overboard into details that bogged it down. It's so hard to imagine what life is (was) like for the ...more
Brenda Funk
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this memoir....maybe 'enjoy' is not quite the right word for a description of a brutally difficult time, the setting being Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabi's reign of terror, as the country disintegrates under his rule. The story is an interesting one as the author discovers secrets about his family, and as he cares for his parents from another continent, while respecting their choice to stay. Well done.
Kerri
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I always hesitate to give five stars but for me, this is better than 4.5. I love stories set in Africa and this memoir does Africa so well. Touching while educational.
Tom Oman
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book had so many strands of fascinating subtext; issues of race, colonialism, immigration, emigration, community, death, development, and family, each of which could be explored endlessly. The unraveling of a nation, the hopelessness of tyranny. Africa. This memoir more than anything sheds light into a little known world.
Shawn Davis
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Scot
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
...more
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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
“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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“As we get ready to leave, Georgina announces that she wants to keep the kitten. But of course she can't. We walk up and down looking for its mother, calling for its siblings. But the nearby kraals are deserted, of both people and animals. And eventually we have to leave it at the gate of an empty kraal, the closest one to where it found us, hoping that this might be its home. As we start to drive away, the kitten totters down the dirt road after us, a furry ball of khaki with irregular black spots, and Georgina bursts into tears.

'Over the kitten? Really?' I ask, gesturing around the ruins of the torture base and the mass graves. 'With all of this?'

'No,' she sniffs. 'It's not just the kitten. It's everyone here. They've all been abandoned. No one gives a **** about what happened to them. They're completely alone.”
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