Peter Godwin is the award-winning author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun and Mukiwa. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and became a foreign correspondent, reporting from more than 60 countries. Since moving to Manhattan, he has written for National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair. He has taught at Princeton and Columbia, and in 2010 received a Guggenheim fellowship.
The Fear covers events and stories of people in Zimbabwe mostly during 2008-2009, the time of an historic election in Zimbabwe which resulted in a new government to replace that of the octogenarian dictator, Robert Mugabe. I knew a very little about current and recent events in Zimbabwe going into this book—only that Mugabe was a dictator and that the economy of Zimbabwe was in a shambles as a result of his rule.
Now, I know a lot more, even though the narrative was somewhat confusing at times. Godwin travelled around the country, interviewing this person and that, and telling the stories mostly of the opposition party that actually won the election in 2008, the MDC. Mugabe’s thugs, the ZANU-PF, are uniformly seen as just that—thugs, murderers, and torturers. I tend to think that one-sided picture is accurate. Even though MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won the election in 2008, Mugabe refused to give up power, and eventually the two men and their political allies were forced to enter into a power-sharing agreement brokered by South Africa. In spite (because of) of widespread election violence and persecution of those who voted for the MDC, Tsvangirai decided to avoid a civil war by becoming part of the government and trying to work for change from within.
The Fear is a harrowing book. The tales of torture and suffering that fill the book are quite overwhelming. I wondered how people could be so cruel and evil, and then I remembered that we are all capable of great evil and only held in check by the grace of God. I also wondered how people can continue to live relatively normal lives in the face of such brutality, and I remembered that humans are remarkably resilient.
Sometimes I had trouble remembering who was who as the narrative moved from one political figure or common person to another, and much of the terminology was not explained. I could have used a glossary, at least. Part of the problem was reading the book on my Kindle, where I’ve found it is difficult to look back and remind oneself of what has gone before, who a particular character is, or what information may have been explained in the second chapter and merely referenced in the fourth or fifth. I prayed for the people of Zimbabwe as I read, however, and I was moved to pity by their plight.
Of course, the questions in my mind throughout my reading were: “What is going on now in Zimbabwe? How have these people fared? Have conditions improved?” Recent headlines are not encouraging:
Bomb blast hits Zimbabwe official’s home
Police violently break up Zimbabwe rally
Zimbabwe in a state of ‘crisis’
Mugabe depends on diamonds for power
Mugabe begins anti-sanctions campaign
If you are interested in Zimbabwe in particular or African governments and politics in general, you will appreciate the information in Mr. Godwin’s book. You will also wonder how people can be so cruel and how you can help the people of Zimbabwe who have suffered so much for so long. I would suggest prayer and possibly a contribution to one of these charities in Zimbabwe.