I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the NPR program Fresh Air. Thanks to them, over the years I’ve discovered countless great nonfiction books like Wide as the Waters, The Murder Room and Lost Christianities, in addition to novels like Push and The Magician’s Wife. Back in the spring of 2011 while was driving across town I happened to catch host Terry Gross’ interview with journalist Peter Godwin in which he recalled his 2008 visit to the African nation of Zimbabwe. Intrigued by what I heard, about a week later put Godwin’s book on my Goodreads list of books to read and then, as I usually do in cases like this promptly forgot about it. Then one day not long ago while raiding the shelves at my public library I stumbled upon it. With my memory jarred (and wanting another book to read as part of Kinna’s African Reading Challenge) I quickly grabbed it. Boy I’m glad I did. Peter Godwin’s The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe is one heck of a powerful book.
Judging by the picture Godwin paints in The Fear, Zimbabwe for all intents and purposes if not a failed state, it’s certainly a failing one. It’s bad enough the country suffers from astronomical hyperinflation, a collapsed state infrastructure, food shortages and diseases like AIDS and cholera but to make matters worse, it’s been in the vice grip of a ruthless dictator for over 30 years. While Zimbabwe possess many of the components of a Western-style democracy like elections, a judiciary, a legislative assembly, political parties and an independent media the grim reality is President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party rule through intimidation, violence and murder.
I found The Fear to be a great book. It’s well-written and flows quickly. The individual stories of courage in the face of violence are nothing less than inspiring. Since Godwin was born in this country (back when it was white-ruled Rhodesia) and spent his youth in Zimbabwe, this book also has that great insider’s/outsider’s perspective that I love. Along the way he encounters countless people, each of them interesting in their own individual way. Godwin tells his tale leavened with anger, disgust, fear, terror and believe it or not, even sarcasm and humor.
As 2012 draws to a close I’m starting to compile my “best of” list of this year’s best books. Right now as I type this post there’s a strong likelihood Godwin’s The Fear will be on that list.