Monday, September 8, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

by Peter Godwin
Group Discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

Peter Godwin, an award-winning writer, is on assignment in Zululand when he is summoned by his mother to Zimbabwe, his birthplace. His father is seriously ill; she fears he is dying. Godwin finds his country, once a post-colonial success story, descending into a vortex of violence and racial hatred.

His father recovers, but over the next few years Godwin travels regularly between his family life in Manhattan and the increasing chaos of Zimbabwe, with its rampant inflation and land seizures making famine a very real prospect. It is against this backdrop that Godwin discovers a fifty-year-old family secret, one which changes everything he thought he knew about his father, and his own place in the world. (from the publisher's web site)

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Read an Interview with Peter Godwin in New York magazine

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Publishers Weekly Review:

/* Starred Review */ In this exquisitely written, deeply moving account of the death of a father played out against the backdrop of the collapse of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, seasoned journalist Godwin has produced a memoir that effortlessly manages to be almost unbearably personal while simultaneously laying bare the cruel regime of longstanding president Robert Mugabe. In 1996 when his father suffers a heart attack, Godwin returns to Africa and sparks the central revelation of the book --- the father is Jewish and has hidden it from Godwin and his siblings. As his father's health deteriorates, so does Zimbabwe. Mugabe, self-proclaimed president for life, institutes a series of ill-conceived land reforms that throw the white farmers off the land they've cultivated for generations and consequently throws the country's economy into free fall. There's sadness throughout --- for the death of the father, for the suffering of everyone in Zimbabwe (black and white alike) and for the way that human beings invariably treat each other with casual disregard. Godwin's narrative flows seamlessly across the decades, creating a searing portrait of a family and a nation collectively coming to terms with death. This is a tour de force of personal journalism and not to be missed. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed February 26, 2007) (Publishers Weekly, vol 254, issue 9, p73)

Kirkus Reviews
Zimbabwe's disintegration in the hands of ruthless dictator Robert Mugabe, recounted in careful, beautifully crafted prose by a journalist born and raised there. Godwin's powerful story combines vivid travelogue, heart-wrenching family saga and harrowing political intrigue. Mugabe's pillaging of Zimbabwe is a crime still grossly underreported by the international press and largely ignored by the world community. It is all the more harrowing when seen through the lens of its impact on the lives of Godwin's intrepid parents, an engineer and physician who came to Rhodesia as newlyweds. Hardly the stereotypical colonial exploiters, George and Helen Godwin helped build and nurture the country; they even applauded many of the changes that overthrew white rule and saw Zimbabwe's transformation in 1980 into a black-governed land. But in February 2000, barbaric forces were set loose by Mugabe, a mass-murderer still viewed by many Africans as a liberator. Gangs of gun-toting looters, encouraged by Mugabe and his henchmen, plunged the country into anarchy. White-owned farms were "repossessed" by thugs who cared little about growing crops. Businesses wereransacked, often by the corrupt police force. The fragile economy was destroyedwhile millions starved. Hundreds of white families and black members of the political opposition were murdered in their homes. Like many of his compatriots, the author left Zimbabwe, becoming a journalist and documentary filmmaker first inEngland and later in America. But he returned home regularly to visit his aging, increasingly isolated and anxious parents, whose friends were steadily being killed or forced to flee. Despite Africa's numbing violence and despair, Godwin (Mukiwa, 1996, etc.) never loses sight of the natural beauty and native spirit that drew his parents there in the first place. A haunting story.

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