I read Godwin’s earlier memoir (Mukiwa, A White Boy in Africa) 10 years ago so naturally wanted to read this one, though I wondered what a man younger than I by a decade or more could have to write two memoirs about. The answer is “plenty”. This one is focuses on the period between 1996 and 2004 when Robert Mugabe is encouraging the “wovits” (supposedly vets of the civil war but mostly thugs and opportunists) to confiscate land from white settlers. Mugabe seems to want to get rid of whites in Zimbabwe and to make what was a country genuinely successful at developing a multi-racial society into an all black country; ruining the country's economy in the process. Production is down, the economy is shrinking, inflation is off the wall. Not only whites but middle class blacks are immigrating in droves.
Godwin, a journalist, has lived in the UK and the US for years but loves his country and has made a specialty of getting jobs reporting from there. His parents remained there as did his sister, a TV journalist. What's compelling about this memoir, though, is the author's skill at simultaneously reporting on the beauty and promise and on the horrible political present of a part of the world most of us know little about and think of only as a place of abject poverty and ugliness. Godwin's love of Zimbabwe and its people, black and white, is infectious. But he's very talented also at weaving Zimbabwe's story in with that his own family. His older sister, killed by terrorists whose grave is vandalized. His physician mother who’s given and given again to the people of Zimbabwe. His younger sister whose journalism gets her banned to North London where she broadcasts back to Zimbabwe.
Godwin learns during the time frame of the book that his tight-lipped British father is actually a Polish Jew and holocaust survivor trapped in Britain in 1939 where he went on a course to learn English. His mother and sister ended their lives in Treblinka. His father was never allowed to leave Poland. Godwin’s telling of his father's story would seem totally irrelevant to present day Africa, as would Goodwin’s own experience of volunteering his time in the wake of 9/11 (his own neighborhood), but that's the beauty of a good memoirist who can make anything that happens to him "relevant”. In the end he feel compelled to compare his own need to leave Africa with his father’s to leave Poland: “Like Poland was to him, Africa is for me: a place in which I can never truly belong, a dangerous place that will, if I allow it to, reach into my life and hurt my family. A white in Africa is like a Jew anywhere—on sufferance, watching wearily, waiting for the next great tidal swell of hostility.”
I can’t recommend this book enough.