We Four in Egypt

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Mukiwa by Peter Godwin

My summer reading (of which there was little, unfortunately) centered on Peter Godwin’s memoir Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa. I resisted this book because I’m far more interested in black people in Africa, and, frankly, I have my own prejudices about white Africans. I didn’t want to read an account of some idyllic, naive white childhood. But I was finally motivated to read it because it was on my shelf and because of the Africa Reading Challenge.

I’m pleased to report that my (completely uninformed) pre-judgment on this book was totally wrong. Instead, as Godwin recounts his childhood and young adulthood in then-Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, he also chronicles the end of white rule in this southern African country. It’s a fascinating story.

Godwin’s parents raised three children in then-Rhodesia, where they worked as a factory manager (dad) and doctor (mom). The first part of Godwin’s memoir comprises his mostly happy childhood in the rural countryside, when black Africans were family servants and factory workers. Even then, however, black African fighers were beginning to attack white settlers, and a sense of unease pervaded the white community.

The next part of the book focuses on Godwin’s post-secondary school obligatory national service with the militarized police. He served as a soldier, fighting alongside white and black soldiers and fighting rebel black soldiers, even though he and his family supported the rebels’ goal of black majority rule.

After leaving the police, Godwin left the country to attend Cambridge, and the final part of the book recounts his return to Zimbabwe briefly as a lawyer, defending his former enemies, and eventually as a journalist, uncovering atrocities committed by the army under Mugabe’s black government, for which he was expelled from Zimbabwe.

Godwin’s catharsis, near the book’s close, about his family’s role, and the whites’ role, as settlers in then-Rhodesia, is perhaps worth the entire read. I was fascinated to learn how the white Rhodesians viewed their grandparents as pioneers and themselves as settlers, as entitled to their farms as Americans consider ourselves to be entitled to our homes in the US. White Africans don’t have a monopoly on displacing and killing native peoples.

Books are my portal into learning about new countries and cultures. Godwin’s excellent memoir Mukiwa opened the door to Zimbabwe for me.


13 August 2008 - Posted by | africa, books

1 Comment

  1. […] Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin / Zimbabwe (Ms. Four) […]

    Pingback by 14 more reviews on the Africa Reading Challenge « siphoning off a few thoughts | 21 August 2008

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