Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin
|Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Three books for the price of one in this impeccable and non-judgemental book - an evocative childhood memoir, a personal story of war and the difficult job of trying to report it. Outstanding.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 418||Date: January 2007|
First published in 1996 and given a welcome new outing by Picador, Mukiwa - White Man - is possibly the best memoir you'll ever read. Peter Godwin is one of the founding presenters of the BBC's flagship foreign affairs programme, Correspondent. Godwin was born in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was then, and this is the story of its bloody and painful transition to independence, from the time Ian Smith declared UDI to the atrocities committed by Robert Mugabe. There were terrible times and no-one emerges unscathed.
The book is divided into three very different sections. In the first, we find Godwin recalling his colonial childhood, the son of an engineer and a government medical officer. He becomes a secret member of an Apostolic church with his nanny, Violet and follows his mother around, helping her with post mortems, vaccination programmes and bringing contraception to African women. In the background, Ian Smith declares UDI and the African insurgency begins.
The second part of Mukiwa follows Godwin as he is conscripted into the police force and fights the insurgents. For people like Godwin, who felt majority rule should come sooner rather than later, and had no desire to fight anyone, this was a horrible time. A lot of people died. White farmers were murdered, sectarianism between the Shona and Matabele saw many more deaths. There were regular skirmishes between government forces and guerillas, and people were used as human hostages to locate landmines.
Finally, Godwin becomes a journalist and the last part of the book deals with his undercover excursions into territories held by the notorious Fifth Brigade of the nascent Zimbabwe state, as he tries to tell the world what is happening there.
Mukiwa's strength lies in its emotional connection. It's painfully, palpably honest and it wastes no time in using hindsight to judge events. Instead, it simply chronicles the experiences, impressions and opinions of a child, an adolescent and a young man. It will have you both howling with laughter and crying like a baby. Towards the end of the book, Godwin returns to Mozambique for the first time in over twenty years. He tries to find the zoo he loved to visit as a child, only to discover all the animals have starved to death. A family with six children are living in the cage which used to hold the lion that loved licking ice cream cones. Eight people. In a cage. Thinking themselves fortunate to have a home at all.
Read it and weep.
Mukiwa deservedly won the George Orwell prize for political writing. It's a painfully honest and heart-wrenching memoir. Godwin owns freely to the possible foibles of his recollection and to changing names or creating composite characters in case of possible retribution, but the book has the unmistakeable ring of authenticity and integrity. The first parts are as warm and redolent as My Family And Other Animals and will have you laughing as heartily. The succeeding sections will make your heart despair.
My thanks to the publisher, Picador, for sending me this wonderful book.
Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals recreates childhood in a similarly evocative fashion, whilst George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia gives the personal experience of a non-violent man in war and David Loyn's Frontline is all about risking one's life to tell an important story.
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin is in the Top Ten Biographies and Autobiographies.
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin is in the Top Ten Books About Africa.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin at Amazon.com.
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