Prime When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of AfricaAuthor Peter Godwin –

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 barrister and then as a journalist He writes about how the optimism of the first decade of post independence soured in the 1990s as the Mugabe regime degenerated into a violent kleptocracy and HIV ravaged the population, reducing African life expectancy in Zimbabwe from 57 in 1980 to 34 by the beginning of the 21st century.Godwin discovers there as his much admired father slips into old age and a final illness that George Godwin, safari suited British engineer, was by birth a Polish Jew named Kasimir Goldfarb, a veteran of the wartime Free Polish forces, a man whose family died at Treblinka The book counterpoints Godwin s discovery of his father s childhood with the destruction of white life in Zimbabwe, with the Mugabe dictatorship s chaotic and self destructive program of inciting mobs to seize and partition white owned farms To be white in Zimbabwe in 2003, Godwin sees, is like being Jewish in Poland after the German occupation a life lived on suffrance Godwin writes about the end of a world not just white Rhodesia, but of the hopes raised at independence When a Crocodile Eats the Sun ends with Godwin overseeing his late father s cremation, realising that he s an African no longer welcome in Africa This is an account I ll keep in my own memory for a long time tragic, spare, thoughtful, unutterably sad Read it Read 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 before Mugabe, and suffered accordingly under white rule He never seems to question why there was so much opposition to the white settlers, who had the best farmland, and his own parents included , black servants While I thouroughly enjoyed Godwin s gorgeous writing, I was frequently frustrated with his reluctance to address the oppression of the blacks, which continues to haunt the country.Godwin is the better writer, but I preferred Fuller s book Her Zimbabwe is just as frightening, and beautiful But she never withdraws judgement throughout her book Her approach lends greater credibility.Please note I m not arguing that Mugabe s monstrous behavior towards any of his subjects is justifiable But Zimbabwean independence is a much complex issue than Godwin acknowleges. After His Father S Heart Attack In , 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 Their Comfortable Lifestyle Had Been Shattered And Millions Were Fleeing, His Parents Refuse To Leave, Steadfast In Their Allegiance To The Failed State That Has Been Their Adopted Home For YearsThen Godwin Discovered A Shocking Family Secret That Helped Explain Their Loyalty Africa Was His Father S Sanctuary From Another Identity, Another WorldWHEN A CROCODILE EATS THE SUN Is A Stirring Memoir Of The Disintegration Of A Family Set Against The Collapse Of A Country But It Is Also A Vivid Portrait Of The Profound Strength Of The Human Spirit And The Enduring Power Of Love 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 sent myself an e mail with the book title and author s name Once home I ordered the book and sat it on my to read pile for about a month.I started reading Crocodile mid week I read a few pages and had to put it down I just didn t have the time to keep reading Friday afternoon I picked it up again and promptly cancelled my plans for the evening I could not bear to stop reading Peter s story as well as his father s story has so many twists and turns I almost forgot I was reading non fiction I felt as though he pulled me into his life.His story made me laugh at times, say aha at times, but mainly it made me weep.Some books make me tear up tears form in the corners of my eyes and usually fall down my face at some point, but it s just a tear or two.Some books make me cry mutiple tears falling simultaneously while my nose runs to the point I have to either put the book down and get a tissue, or and please don t tell anyone I do this keep reading the book and use my sleeve Very few books make we weep cry to the point I have no choice but to set the book aside, find a box of tissues, and weep nearly uncontrollably.This book made we weep Multiple times I wept for the people of Zimbabwe and their struggles I wept for the inhumanity of the leaders and wovits I wept for the personal losses suffered by the Godwins Sometimes I wept because I was simply overwhelmed by all of it.Though Godwin writes this book in a fairly detached manner, it evoked a very strong emotional reaction in me I still can t wrap my brain around Crocodiles because it is living in my heart. 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 father s cremation My brother Rod who was in the BSAP during the last years of the civil war died in Gaborone in 2000 He was cremated at the Hindu crematorium because it was the only operational one in Gabs then He died ostensibly from complications from a botched appendicectomy but when I spoke to his surgeon a week after his death his words to me were every time we took your brother to theatre to clean him , we removed a little shrapnel, you might well say the war killed him but only 20 years later I cried too for my Africa and the fact that as a 3rd 4th generation African I am often both subtly and less subtly told in a myriad of ways daily that this continent is not my home and that I must go home to a land that is so foreign to me that the very thought scares me beyond belief. 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 National Geographic I don t know personally about his reporting, but I enjoyed his writing in this memoir There are many books that emerged from the former Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, that I ve personally had difficulty reading because of the tone Godwin has a great blend of subjectivity and objectivity, even at those moments when it gets deeply personal for him.Land ownership was once something sacred in Zimbabwe Farmers communally prepared the land and when the land became exhausted, they moved to the next patch Buying land was foreign and akin to buying the wind or the water or the trees When the first white pioneer struck a deal with an African elder to get gold, the confusion began because the elder did not think he was giving up rights to the land Even though whites made up only 1 percent of the population, they soon owned than half of Zimbabwe s agricultural land This problem formed the foundation for Zimbabwe s Civil War.Godwin s parents, white, African, immigrants, were caught in the middle of the storm that followed Zimbabwe went from white rule to black rule under Prime Minister, Mugabe Later, Mugabe s political greed and narcissism would take him on a spin of unfair elections and unfair treatment to farmers Mugabe ignited the nationalists and war vets or wovits who wanted to take their country back by any means necessary The destruction that followed is heartrending, and is unfortunately one of many tales of Africa s struggle after colonialism Godwin s story of his father is one that reinforces empathy through each section, as the deepening of this relationship becomes a life lesson for both reader and writer.There is also something deeply universal that should resonate with any immigrant or exile, any survivor of war or victim of displacement anyone who has experienced the loss of homeland and family, one who knows what it is to dream in native language and not hear it daily anyone who has resolved that he or she will never fully feel at home anywhere, but may make home everywhere When an African has lived through the loss of a country s values, the lens out of which to view sometimes becomes blurred 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 Some fiction on Zimbabwe that I have also enjoyed are Maraire s Zenzele A Letter for My Daughter and Vera s Without a Name and Under the Tongue 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 who attempts to represent Africa to a western audience, this seems rather bad form.Still, Godwin does a good job of chronicling Zimbabwe s demise under the increasingly autocratic rule of Robert Mugabe and the manifold challenges that everyday Zimbabweans face to survive Godwin even goes into detail about the repression and violence that Mugabe s regime uses to stay in power, but he s subtle too subtle about his criticism of it Even his stories about the opposition usually include the appearances of white Zimbaweans When a Crocodile East the Sun is worth reading for the inside view it offers us of a nation s collapse, but not for the author s politics. 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 July 1996 and the last February 2004 The author grew up in Rhodesia It is evident that he feels himself to be both African as well as an outsider When he writes the book he is living in NYC and is a well paid and recognized journalist writing for magazines such as National Geographic The book follows the author s visits to his homeland and specifically his elderly parents His mother is a doctor and his father a farmer It follows the events that were occurring in Zimbabwe on the given dates The country s and the family s downward spiral are one and the same It is devastating to watch what Robert Mugabe has done to this country By the end I was in tears When I read a book about the political events of a country I want to know how these events play out in people s lives This is exactly what you are given in this book.I want to feel empathy for the people By the end I certainly did, but it took a good 100 pages for this to begin.There is little or no humor in the book I found it extremely depressing OK, this is the truth of what Mugabe has done to this land, but family events that were amusing could have been thrown in In addition, I felt that the author added gruesome details scarcely relevant to the story He need not have shown us, step by horrible step, how Jews met their death at Treblinka Neither did I find the writing particularly outstanding, just ordinary.Ironically, what has united the blacks and whites in Zimbabwe is a shared hatred of Mugabe Along with this book one could read Alexandra Fuller s Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Don t Let s Go To The Dogs Tonight An African Childhood These two are less politically explicit and cover events further back in time If you are interested in Mugabe s rule, choose When a Crocodile Eats the Sun instead The other two have a completely different tone I could not help but smile as I read them Both authors have shown us their family s secrets and how their lives as whites in Africa were shaped by political events. .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 until she was 75, because there was no one to replace her Both his parents were utterly committed to Zimbabwe, and refused to leave, even when life there got incredibly tough and threatening.With masterful finesse, Godwin peels back the veneer of civilization that so many of us take for granted, and exposes the brutal realities of life in a failed state Most of all he discusses the lives of those who were once the leaders of that society the white ex patsnow being persecuted and often savagely beaten up The mind boggles as to what life must be like for those at the bottom of the pecking order Those most vulnerable seem to be the Zimbabweans who worked on white farms, and often remained loyal to their employers Except what price loyalty when life is brutalizing and threatening, and survival is tenuous Godwin shows several people who turned upon their employers simply because life was untenable if they did not do so In August 2002 alone, there were 80,000 displaced farm workers.He shows us a government absolutely rife with corruption, nepotism and lies Mugabe is letting his people starve, yet denies these realities in order to keep face He refuses to let foreign food aid through to those parts of Zimbabwe where his political rivals have support The average lifespan of a Zimbabwe man has dropped from 60 years at Independence, to 34 years today Mugabe himself lives in extreme luxury Yet the myth of the man as Zimbabwe s liberator lives on When New African magazine surveys its readers to find the top African leaders of all time , they rate Mugabe third behind Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah, First President of Ghana He also discusses what it is like to be an ex colonial, and the guilt, perplexities, and ruminations that this involves It is sometimes said that the worst thing to happen to Africa was the arrival of the white man And the second worst thing was his departure Colonialism lasted just long enough to destroy much of Africa s indigenous culture and traditions but not long enough to leave behind a durable replacement I would add also that we yes I too am an ex colonial white South African we did virtually nothing to help educate people in the new culture and technology we brought with us, and that was a terrible curse that we placed upon them In fact we did all we could to keep them uneducated in these matters Godwin s bitterness surfaces most of all when he discusses his feelings about Cape Town view spoilerI always wanted to love Cape Town.I tried to live there, but after six months I gagged on its isolation from the rest of the continent It doesn t feel like the rest of Africa It sometimes feels to me as though Cape Town might also serve as the white man s last redoubt, where our vanguards will hold back the onslaughtthe black perilwhile our women and children board lifeboats out to the tall ships in False Bay, ships that will take us back to England and Holland and France and Germany, or to ex colonies where we have conveniently decimated the indigenous inhabitants, to North America and the Antipodeshide spoiler 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 outlets But then he includes his family s personal history to remain true to the memoir format of the book He also draws a comparison to the holocaust events of what is happening to whites in Zimbabwe I was constantly aware that the events were treated as journalistic exercises However, it is a sad report on how quickly a country turned from a food basket to a dust bowl when things went wrong.When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is nlikely 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 in 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 as sudden and violent upending of value systems Different readers obviously focus on different aspect of the story There are many reviews on Goodreads, providing other insights into the story I don t want to add yet another comment on the actual content of the book, but would rather prefer to look at the underlying message in the book about human rights and how selectively it is applied to different situations in the world Africa is a place where calculated acts of cultural and racial genocide, combined with xenophobia, take on totally different colors than the officially defined Let s summarize the actual, official definition of human rights first and then look at the story from different perspectives HUMAN RIGHTSIn the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Preamble, the following statements are made Source United Nations Department of Public Information, NY Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and ppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,READ MORE..Who really has the teeth to address this issue Not the UN, where Russia and China sanction any actions against their friends The two countries whose human rights records stink up the universe, have the veto right on it.FROM A COMMUNIST PERSPECTIVEComparing the events in Zimbabe, actually everywhere in Africa, where landowners of different colors have been expropriated in different ways mostly violent murders , to the events in all countries where Communism took over the absolutely shocking horror and atrocities used in executing the decision, the evidence of similar patrons is spread all over the place In the case of Zimbabwe, and South Africa as well, although subtle, the modus operandi is Maoistic than Stalanistic with all the cruelties included of Mao s believes and conduct But Wole Soyinka, the Nobel prize winning Nigerian writer, P.266compares the Zimbabwean land reform program with Stalin s land collectivization in Soviet Russia, designed to get rid of the kulaks, the pre revolutionary commercial farmers whom he saw as a political threat A much accurate comparison, in my opinion, can be drawn with M o s land reform in which landgrabbers were instructed to kill and take whatever they wanted It is very well illustrated in the bookWild Swans three daughters of Chinaby Jung Chang I can add, for shock value, the photos of the genocidal slaughtering, because that is what it is, of the white farmers and their families in both countries, but the reader can find thousands of it on the internet There are hundreds of organizations trying to create awareness and attract attention to these senseless, barbaric murders But the world is officially turning a blind eye Unofficially little is done For instance, white refugees are not handled the same way as other refugee under international law As soon as a white person apply for refugee status, an uproar is stage and the sympathy is shifted to the offended black regime who claim to be victims of prejudice as well as colonization and hidden racist agendas They are quick to add that they cannot be held responsible for some citizens who want to take revenge And so some people back down But countries such as China are not interested in what happens inside the walls of the house being plundered for their hungry economy They simply subsidize Zimbabwe s government expenses and keep Mugabe in power for their own ends And this way many eyes from countries that need Africa s wealth turn many blind eyes After all, who wants to be accused of being fascist thugs FROM A WORLD PERSPECTIVEWith just about the entire world dependent on Africa s wealth of resources, the outcome of Africa s history is determined by corporations and political big wigs with their hands in the cookie jars In order of importance, Human Rights are so irrelevant, it is considered to be like a small asthmatic fish dying on dry land, no matter how noble the intentions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been There are much bigger fish to catch in this vast ocean of African wealth which demands much attention and promises much profits.FROM AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVEWhat started out as a noble idea of liberating Africa from thousands of years of oppression, ended up in a cesspool of a carefully selected cleptrocratic, nepotistic group of despots raping the continent s wealth and keeping themselves in power with barbaric clamp downs on the inhabitants For every white person being murdered, another five Africans are killed by their own governments for opposing these mafiosos in power I found the Goodwin book a true version of events accurate, insightful, and well executed Being a memoir, it discusses a family s situation in which their basic human rights have been severely compromised The hardships they had to face, emotionally as well as physically, are heart wrenching Godwin also touches on colonialism as a contributing factor to the current violence on whites P 153It is sometimes said that the worst thing to happen to Africa was the arrival of the white man And the second worst was his departure Colonialism lasted just long enough to destroy much of Africa s indigenous cultures and traditions, but not long enough to leave behind a durable replacement P 155When the first Europeans arrive in Africa, they bring their territorial imperative with them And once the dust settles from the Scramble for Africa , the continent finds itself sliced up into bizarre and arbitrary shapes Kilimanjaro, for instance, is given by Queen Victoria as a birthday present to her cousin, the Kaiser, because she has two snow capped African peaks, and he has none Many of these new states lump together ancient antagonists, cut across cultural and economic hinterlands Europeans take Africa by the scruff of its neck and shake the bejesus into it, knocking it clear of its cultural fulcrum by doing good things and bad on so many frons religion, trade, infrastructure, health Societies that are built on the mathematical fundamentals of women giving birth to twelve in order to bring two or three to maturity suddenly find themselves with five, seven, nine children and all the attendant cultural chaos Europeans entice them to want stuff soap, clothes, bicycles, radios, stoves turn then into impoverished consumers co opt their chiefs, tax them and compel them to leave home, to labour for wages Human rights and equality for all was one of the major ideals of Nelson Mandela But his love for people became the main reason why he was shunted onto a sideline by the members of his party who craved a ride on the gravy train and pushed everything and anyone out of the way that apposed their greed Modern Africa was never a haven for human rights, although it was suppose to be If it was, there would not have been so many millions of Africans fleeing their own countries to particularly Europe and America as well as South Africa So much so, that it is currently creating huge challenges for the host countries The black on black violence is much worse in scope and numbers as well compared to the white genocide.So if you are interested in basic Human Rights and what it really should mean, you can read this book If you want to read about the African story, this is one true version of the events And after you have read it, you will have to decided where you stand on the Human Rights issue, how selectively you are in your own application of it Should it only apply to groups you have sanctioned But, just as a human interest story, This book is a beautiful book written in eloquent prose I am not so impressed with the choice of title though It might allow an exotic touch to the story, it is an eye catcher, but for me, does not apply really to the situation The reason being that these atrocities are happening on a daily basis and have been doing so for centuries It is not a once off occurrence Five stars for the guts it took to write this detailed version of an African love story gone wrong In my opinion, it is the basic human right of everyone to tell his her story It is the only way a complete version of history can be recorded It is another way of demonstrating greed in all its different disguises This book made a valuable contribution The most important message, to me personally, in this book, lies in the proof it provides that throughout human history, cruelty has not been limited to one creed or color There simply are no saints in the saga of human existence.I wanted to read this book for months now It was lying here waiting I was expecting it to be a good counter balance for African Laughter Four Visits to Zimbabwe by Doris Lessing It was What Lessing failed to acknowledge was it deliberate omission perhaps of the horrendous atrocities in her book as a result of the revolt, fueled by communism which she promoted in Zimbabwe in her earlier involvement in the country s politics , Godwin has added in clinical detail It was needed.