Friday, September 25, 2009

Review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

Heartbreaking. If there is one word to try and capture this book, that is the one. Tragic and infuriating are close behind.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is a memoir by Peter Godwin, a successful journalist who hails from Zimbabwe but presently lives in New York City. It begins in the late 1990's when some of the first signs of Mugabe's inane policies regarding land-reform started to emerge, and ends in 2004, when the destruction and tragedy were all but a done-deal and broadcast around the world. Godwin is an excellent writer, and he deftly tells his family's story while weaving Zimbabwe's history and more recent events into the tale. Godwin's elderly parents are all that remains of his family in Zimbabwe; His younger sister has been forced to leave due to her affiliation with the Opposition, and his older sister is dead, killed years before by friendly fire in the civil war. Several of their friends have emigrated or been killed, and Godwin is unsuccessful in convincing them to leave. Godwin's parents are virtual prisioners in their own house in Harare, a city that is quickly descending into chaos. His parents' failing health presents an additional challenge, and Godwin struggles to help from a distance.

Godwin manages to travel back to Harare frequently by taking on assignments, and it is on one of his trips that his father tells him a secret that he had kept from everyone except Godwin's mother for over 40 years. It would ruin the story to divulge it here, but suffice to say that it changes Godwin's entire image of himself, and allows him to weave a whole new chapter around WWII into the story.

I cried a lot reading this book (and I rarely cry when I read). I cried with anger at what Mugabe has done to this incredible country, I cried with a deep sadness for Godwin's family, and the millions of other innocent people who have had their lives all but taken away from them, but I also cried with love and respect for his parents, whose spirit and perseverence was something that we should all aspire to. As heartbreaking at this book is, it is a book that needs to be read far and wide, and I highly recommend it.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Review of Persuasion

One of the things you've got to love (or hate) about Jane Austen is that, for the most part, you know what you're going to get when you pick up one of her books. Sometimes there's something to be said for predictability with authors -- it's like a kind comfort food. It's nice to know that there is something out there that will make you feel good, fill you up, and leave you with a smile on your face when you're done, even if it's not the most delicious meal you've ever had. For some, that's macaroni and cheese, for me, it's Jane Austen.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the oldest of three sisters who is teetering on the edge of spinsterhood at the ripe old age of 26. Anne was once engaged to marry Captain Frederick Wentworth, but her friend and confident, Lady Russell, persuaded her that he was not the right match and the agreement was ended. Eight years later, Anne is still unmarried and wondering if she made the wrong choice when Captain Wentworth comes back into her life.

And the rest is typical Jane Austen: for several chapters there are miscommunications, misunderstandings, and a few dramatic moments when it looks like Anne will end up with the wrong guy and Captain Wentworth will end up with the wrong gal, but then...ta da! All ends well and everyone ends up with the person they were supposed to be with. That being said, Persuasion was actually my favorite Austen read so far - I found the characters to be more interesting and multi-faceted then usual (despite the predicably facile younger sisters and absurdly vain father) - and there were a couple of twists and turns that did leave me guessing. I was transported back to early 19th Century English society, and found myself smiling from start to finish.

Ah...felt so good, just like mac n' cheese.