Friday, September 25, 2009

Review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

Heartbreaking. If there is one word to try and capture this book, that is the one. Tragic and infuriating are close behind.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is a memoir by Peter Godwin, a successful journalist who hails from Zimbabwe but presently lives in New York City. It begins in the late 1990's when some of the first signs of Mugabe's inane policies regarding land-reform started to emerge, and ends in 2004, when the destruction and tragedy were all but a done-deal and broadcast around the world. Godwin is an excellent writer, and he deftly tells his family's story while weaving Zimbabwe's history and more recent events into the tale. Godwin's elderly parents are all that remains of his family in Zimbabwe; His younger sister has been forced to leave due to her affiliation with the Opposition, and his older sister is dead, killed years before by friendly fire in the civil war. Several of their friends have emigrated or been killed, and Godwin is unsuccessful in convincing them to leave. Godwin's parents are virtual prisioners in their own house in Harare, a city that is quickly descending into chaos. His parents' failing health presents an additional challenge, and Godwin struggles to help from a distance.

Godwin manages to travel back to Harare frequently by taking on assignments, and it is on one of his trips that his father tells him a secret that he had kept from everyone except Godwin's mother for over 40 years. It would ruin the story to divulge it here, but suffice to say that it changes Godwin's entire image of himself, and allows him to weave a whole new chapter around WWII into the story.

I cried a lot reading this book (and I rarely cry when I read). I cried with anger at what Mugabe has done to this incredible country, I cried with a deep sadness for Godwin's family, and the millions of other innocent people who have had their lives all but taken away from them, but I also cried with love and respect for his parents, whose spirit and perseverence was something that we should all aspire to. As heartbreaking at this book is, it is a book that needs to be read far and wide, and I highly recommend it.


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