I switched continents last week when I read When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (Little, Brown and Company, 2006) by Peter Godwin.
Last year I did a memoir writing independent study with author Paula Bernstein. Some of the best advice she gave (and she gave me quite a bit) was to read, read, read. Paula suggested Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Random House, 2003), a memoir about Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
I loved Fuller’s memoir so much that I hunted down Wendy Kann’s Casting with a Fragile Thread (Picador, 2007), also about growing up in Rhodesia.
And then I learned there are so many memoirs about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe that it’s become a genre in itself. So when I picked up When a Crocodile Eats the Sun at the public library, I naively thought it would be a male version of Fuller’s and Kann’s memoirs.
The history is the same, but all these stories differ greatly.
Godwin’s book narrates the eviction of white farmers from their Zimbabwean land starting around the year 2000. As his parents get older, he also learns of a significant family secret they have kept from his sister and him for more than 40 years.
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, in my opinion, shows the complexity of the problems in Zimbabwe more so than the other Rhodesian/Zimbabwean memoirs I’ve read.
I also didn’t realize until I read When a Crocodile Eats the Sun that Zimbabwe had been a model country for post-colonial Africa, one with a vibrant middle class and thriving agriculture.
All that is gone now.