Monday, July 11, 2011

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin

Near the end of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa, the author Peter Godwin in New York ends a phone conversation with his sick father in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I chat on about tobogganing with the kids in Central Park and the Hudson being thick with ice floes. And when I run out of news, he says, "OK, well, good-bye, then." The phone clicks off, and all I can hear is the buzzing of distance. And instead of hanging up, I leave it at my ear, listening to the audio signature of the long lines to Africa, something I have listened to much of my life. I imagine the lines looping from pole to pole across Harare, with paradise flycatchers and blackeyed bulbuls and masked weavers perched on it as it strings through jacaranda and musasa trees until it swoops down past the Hindhead hawkers and over our garden, over the aloes and papyrus reeds, the monkey puzzle and Jain's kapok tree and onto the Dutch gables of the house, where my mother is up to her elbows in crappy sheets, and Dad is toppling off his bed, and Gomo is padding quietly about the kitchen.

In a moment, Godwin has seen and shown his world to us. He has physically escaped the dangers of living in Zimbabwe, but his heart is still there with his parents. His mother, a nurse, is devoting her time to caring for his dying father. Neither will even consider moving out of the country they consider home. Amid the daily threats of robbery and murder, there are still the beautiful birds and gardens. Their friends are all dead or exiled, but to flee would be admitting defeat. Where would they go and what would they do at their age?

When we discussed When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, several people in our book group were very upset with Godwin. They thought he should have taken charge and made his parents leave Zimbabwe. I can not imagine that he could ever have succeeded. Being able to write beautiful prose is not enough to sway the hearts of parents. Few of us can ever dictate to our parents. Few of us even want to. Instead, we go our way, living far away, feeling regret and loss and helplessness.

I think When a Crocodile Eats the Sun will strike a cord with many readers.

Godwin, Peter. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa. Little Brown and Company, 2006. ISBN 9780316158947


Citizen Reader said...

Boy, people always think you can force your family members to do something, can't they? I remember a similar moment in a book group I went to for Carol Shields's novel "Unless," where people thought the main character should have dragged her daughter off the streets where she was living.
Can't always be done, folks. At the end of the day it's really hard to force change, especially onto people you love.

ricklibrarian said...

Thanks, CR. I learned early that my family is set in its crazy ways, so I identified in a way with Godwin.