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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa [Kindle Edition]

Peter Godwin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $8.89
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Sold by: Hachette Book Group

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Book Description

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 the jaws 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 50 years.
Then Godwin discovered a shocking family secret that helped explain their loyalty. Africa was his father's sanctuary from another identity, another world.
WHEN 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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Godwin, the author of a previous memoir about growing up during Zimbabwe’s war of independence, has written a sequel of sorts, tracing the collapse of his country in the course of the past decade (the violently destructive Robert Mugabe is the "crocodile" of the title) in tandem with the decline of his father. The memoir’s central drama comes from the dying father’s revelation that he is not British at all, as his son had always believed, but a Polish Jew, born Kazimierz Jerzy Goldfarb, whose mother and sister were killed in Treblinka. Occasionally, Godwin’s attempts to knit the various story lines together seem a bit pat—"A white in Africa is like a Jew everywhere . . . waiting for the next great tidal swell of hostility"—but he ultimately delivers a powerful narrative of grief and desperation, both personal and national.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 748 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (April 10, 2008)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,200 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
223 of 225 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic but compelling April 16, 2007
By Devon
If anyone wants insight into the plight of white Africans, I would unhesitatingly point them to Peter Godwin's two books (this one and "Mukiwa"). As someone who was raised in Kenya, then spent time in Rhodesia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, but nearly 30 years ago bade farewell to Africa and have watched with sadness but without surprise as the continent has sunk deeper into crisis, his books ring many familiar bells. I long ago cut my last psychological links with Africa, because the Kenya and Rhodesia I knew no longer exists; Godwin's book is a sad reminder.

It is easy for armchair critics to point accusing fingers at colonialism, and to say that whites created many of their own problems, and bequeathed to Africa many of the problems it faces today, but it's not as simple as that. Whatever white Rhodesians did, they did not deserve to be treated the way Mugabe has treated them in the last decade. Black Zimbabweans are by far the biggest losers, though, have suffered on a far greater level, and must regret the manner in which their country - once the great hope of Africa - has been driven into the ground by the venal and short-sighted thuggery of Mugabe and his acolytes.

But it isn't just Africa or Zimbabwe - this is also a story about how bad leadership can lead to widespread social collapse, and bring out the very worst in human nature. Godwin's story about the way his family's maid Mavis was encouraged to turn against them is symbolic of how easy it is for even the best human souls to be turned by fear and intimidation. The case of Zimbabwe shows that the line between stability and anarchy, between security and insecurity, is often very fine.
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72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and Brilliant May 30, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is nothing superficial about this carefully detailed yet succinct memoir. It is a first hand expose of the Mugabe regime which has made Zimbabwe "the world's fastest shrinking economy" by looting the white farmers' land. It is a searing indictment of the corrupt regime and its minions. All is seen through the experiences of the author's parents, an elderly English couple who quietly suffer increasing hardships in the middle of a crazed situation. This is a country where innocent people can be gunned down for no reason at all. The author's older sister was killed just that way in an ambush at the age of 27, a few weeks before her wedding. Yet the parents insist on remaining in Zimbabwe. This may seem inexplicable, but I know many elderly people who would remain in their dangerous neighborhoods in American cities while around them was crime and devastation, rather than uproot themselves. It's not really that different, only far worse, because the government in Zimbabwe encourages and instigates the mayhem that afflicts the country. It would not be "spoiling" to reveal, as have the reviews, that the author discovers his father is not originally English, but a Polish Jew who has concealed his origins from his children. It is to the credit of the author that he does not flinch from recording his own repulsion at being a "hybrid", half Jewish. For years the white population was privileged in Rhodesia, waited upon by the poor blacks, as one of the photos captures. This does not justify what is being done to these elderly whites now, they do not deserve to spend their later years in a collapsed economy where pensions and life insurance are worthless, and their few possessions are always in danger of being hijacked by envious interlopers. In fact, their lives are in constant danger. Peter Godwin, the author, has written an invaluable memoir and expose. Zimbabwe is in anarchy, and living there must be a Hegelian nightmare.
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66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a box elephant, but a crocodile... May 17, 2007
This book will break your heart with its sparely narrated stories of individuals of all colors and classes in Zimbabwe. Events of great irony, courage, tragedy and humor are related with understatement that increases our sympathy and our outrage at the injustices being done to both black and white since 1980 under Mugabe's rule.

I picked up this book because a branch of my family settled in Southern Rhodesia sometime during the fifties; my cousin and her husband died there, as did my aunt who emigrated there from Virginia after her husband's death in the eighties. Communications from them were brief and free of political comment. I once asked why they did not write more and was told, "The mail is censored and it would be dangerous." I knew that they were moderates politically and were not in favor of the conservative Ian Smith government which determinedly maintained white minority rule from 1965 to 1980. I had no idea why this would be so dangerous, but now I know.

The book covers the years between July 1996, when Peter goes back to Zimbabwe because of his father's failing health, and February 2004, when his father dies. Only during this illness does Peter learn that his father was born Kazio Goldfarb, a Polish Jew who met and married his mother in England after serving in World War II, and who emigrated to Rhodesia in 1949 as George Godwin, "a new man...fleeing racial persecution and war, mayhem and genocide." We come to love Peter's parents George and Helen. They are honest, fair, thoughtful and loving people who show unbelievable courage and inventiveness in dealing with declining health in a society that is sinking into chaos.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a great writer
Peter Godwin is a great writer. His descriptions are often poetic. He describes a very sad side of humans.
Published 5 days ago by debby g
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very sad and poignant. Democratic dictatorship in action.
Published 5 days ago by Graeme Bruton
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best Africa memoir I have ever read
I am a white, middle-aged European very familiar with much of sub-Saharan Africa, but unfortunately I thus far know Zimbabwe only through books. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars greta book
excellent into these difficult years and very entertaining to read.
Published 1 month ago by stephen smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but poignant
This is a sad story about the author' s parents in Zimbabwe . It is riveting to know that this is a true story about a family and country on a steep decline. Read more
Published 1 month ago by PMPM
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting
Very interesting but too many characters mentioned throughout to remember which they all were. Learned history which is not publicized.
Published 1 month ago by robin meyer
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant account of what happened in the crisis years.
Couldn't put it down. Well written. Authentic and factual. Going on to another one of his books. Do buy it.
Published 1 month ago by Wendy McKeown-Poole
3.0 out of 5 stars This book was a bit confusing to get into and ...
This book was a bit confusing to get into and hard to understand since I'm not familiar with the politics of Africa. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gloria Getchell
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good book
Published 2 months ago by Vicki L. Gregory
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another contemporary classic
Published 2 months ago by Elisabete M. P. Oliveira
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More About the Author

Peter Godwin is an award winning author and journalist. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he studied law and international relations at Cambridge and Oxford. He worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa and Eastern Europe for The Sunday Times of London. He was founding presenter and writer of Assignment/Correspondent, BBC TV's premier foreign affairs program. He now lives in Manhattan and contributes regularly to National Geographic, New York Times magazine, and BBC Radio, among others.

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