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When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa Hardcover – April 17, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 200 customer reviews

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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.)
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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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316158941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316158947
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (200 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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