When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

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9780330448185: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

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.

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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.

From The Washington Post:

Reviewed by Wendy Kann

In 2000, Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, held a referendum to perpetuate his decades-long rule. He lost. Incensed, he annulled the results and set about destroying his suspected opposition. The economy imploded, and Zimbabwe fell into chaos. In When a Crocodile Eats the Sun -- a reference to solar eclipses, the most apocalyptic of African omens -- Peter Godwin, an acclaimed Zimbabwean journalist now living in Manhattan, masterfully weaves the political and the highly personal. An eyewitness account of that cataclysmic time, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is also a tribute to Godwin's aging parents and a searing exploration of the author's own soul.

The Godwins had immigrated from England to Africa in the early 1950s, where Peter's father, George -- nearly broken from the traumas of World War II -- reinvented himself, managing copper mines, timber estates and government transport. He was a fierce believer in fairness and integrity, sending letters decrying the political corruption of Mugabe's government to the state-owned Zimbabwe Herald under the pseudonym "Rustic Realist." His wife, Helen, an adored doctor at a cash-strapped government hospital, began work before dawn and treated more than 80 patients daily. The couple had three children. Jain, their eldest, was killed on the eve of her wedding in a tragic car accident; Peter was exiled in 1983 for breaking the story of Mugabe's massacre of thousands. Georgina became a Zimbabwean media darling, lately banished for her independent coverage, who now beams hard-to-hear news to her homeland from a lonely London studio.

Mugabe's violent reclamation of mostly white-owned commercial farmland destroyed Zimbabwe's food supply, fostered lawlessness, and shattered the country's economy. Increasingly isolated as their friends flee the repression and hyperinflation, and barely surviving on now worthless Zimbabwean pensions, the elderly Godwins pointedly avoid buying much needed gasoline and medical supplies on a growing black market that they feel benefits only the privileged few. They would rather walk to polling stations and wait in long lines for hours in the hot sun to participate in ultimately farcical local elections. They eat mainly bread and cabbage but consider Peter's attempts to replenish their pantry using American dollars as vulgarly extravagant in light of the extreme poverty suffered by most of the country's inhabitants. As hundreds of the starving and unemployed spill into Harare's suburbs, a swelling camp of the indigent lingers just beyond the Godwins' hedge. Belligerent officials shoulder into their modest yard, claiming bogus infractions and demanding bribes. George is hijacked at his gate by men who beat him to the ground and then toy with killing him.

As his parents' health quickly deteriorates -- George has heart trouble and gangrene, Helen has sciatica -- the frantic author risks slipping into Zimbabwe on frequent magazine assignments despite his exile status. He finds himself on the front line as Mugabe's murderous, pillaging mobs invade farms and smash agricultural infrastructure. An interview with an opposition candidate evolves into a nightlong ordeal fending off goons. Incognito at a political rally, Peter watches farm workers get selected for "re-education" while sullen armed teenagers prowl the remaining crowd, prodding people to raise fists higher, to cheer louder.

And yet much of the book is wryly comic as Godwin describes the absurdities endured by Zimbabwe's white middle class. George's battered Mazda 323 is jerry-rigged with locks and alarms and practically roped to the side of their house. Peter, entertaining his parents with an outing to gawk at McMansions being built by political favorites, takes a wrong turn and finds himself on the prohibited dead end street leading to Robert Mugabe's new palace:

"As we round the bend . . . we see that the soldiers have been reinforced by a dozen more. These new ones carry machine guns, and the brass bullets in their bandoliers shimmer with menace as they catch the sun. At least ten weapons are now pointed directly at us.

" 'Oh, God!' mutters Mum. 'We're all going to be shot. I told you we should have gotten a new atlas, Dad.' "

As Godwin faces both his parents' mortality and his country's collapse, he is tormented by the devastating loss of his own identity. One evening, while still mourning George's recent death, Peter stumbles across a roadblock. When he refuses to offer the expected bribe, an armed and angry policeman forces him to pull over and wait, possibly all night, as punishment. Minutes later, a bus rattles up and as sacks are hurled out for the police to plunder, an old woman pleads for her meager bag of maize. Godwin, fully aware he could be killed for interfering, cannot bear the injustice of the woman's predicament and offers money on her behalf. He is viciously ordered off, but we are left with no doubt at all that Peter Godwin has inherited George and Helen's fortitude.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Pan MacMillan, United Kingdom, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Peter Godwin s book combines vivid reportage, moving personal stories and revealing memoir, and traces his family s quest to belong in hostile lands - a quest that spans three continents and half a century. `Heartbreaking . . . Godwin plainly loves Africa, and he captures the baffling wayward contradictions of its people, their cruelties and unexpected kindnesses, their nobility of spirit in the face of appalling conditions, with humour and grace Daily Mail `A wonderful book . . . beautifully written, packed with insight and free of rancour Literary Review `A strong, heroic book . . . too vivid to bear and too central to our concerns to ignore Edmund White. Bookseller Inventory # AA79780330448185

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Book Description Pan MacMillan, United Kingdom, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Peter Godwin s book combines vivid reportage, moving personal stories and revealing memoir, and traces his family s quest to belong in hostile lands - a quest that spans three continents and half a century. `Heartbreaking . . . Godwin plainly loves Africa, and he captures the baffling wayward contradictions of its people, their cruelties and unexpected kindnesses, their nobility of spirit in the face of appalling conditions, with humour and grace Daily Mail `A wonderful book . . . beautifully written, packed with insight and free of rancour Literary Review `A strong, heroic book . . . too vivid to bear and too central to our concerns to ignore Edmund White. Bookseller Inventory # AA79780330448185

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