I first read Mukiwa in 1997, flying down to Mozambique. It was an introduction to a continent, indeed a world, I knew little about. As I turned the pages I was by turns enchanted, enthralled and deeply shocked. Mukiwa is a world of witch doctors and ancestral spirits, where nature's grandeur provides the backdrop to unimaginable horror, where childhood's innocence and acceptance gives way to cruel realities and political activism.
This is a dual coming of age story - of a man and his homeland. The tale is told in three acts: as a child (a knee-high one at that) in colonial Rhodesia; as a teenage soldier in an internationally-isolated, self-proclaimed Republic; and finally as a lawyer and journalist in the violent early years of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The stories are inextricably caught up with one another. We move almost imperceptibly from a small, comfortable home setting to a battleground fought on a national stage under international scrutiny. Godwin jokes that when he was asked to write a screenplay of Mukiwa, he enquired of the producers which movie they wanted from the book: Empire of the Sun, Platoon, or The Year of Living Dangerously.
The book raises fundamental moral questions of right and wrong, and of taking a stand for what we believe in. Whilst much is made (and continues to be made) of the racism prevalent in the successive governments and different peoples of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, there are many other issues at play: historical inter-tribal tensions, anti-Soviet fears, territorial control and protection of investments.
The reader is not able to sit comfortably and observe from a distance. The narrative draws you in and takes you on a sensory journey through time and place. The prose evokes beauty - The sun warmed my bones and melted my marrow to honey and the ambition oozed out of me onto the fresh breeze that blew down from the Domoslawa Hills and rustled the ivy at my window - and terror - They twitched and kicked and tried to get up, but their legs were broken and their bodies rent with deep gashes. Not only do we witness Peter Godwin’s emotional responses - his anguish, frustration, joy and disbelief - we start to share in them. This is an emotional book for all concerned.
Godwin is no longer able to revisit his childhood home. The people, buildings, place names and social structure are no more. Whilst it is easy to conclude that this is a tale of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ (on both a personal and national level), the fact that such a gifted writer grew up when and where he did, has ensured the exposure of unimaginable attrocities and led to international condemnation. The eyes of the world remain on Zimbabwe.
It is impossible to read Mukiwa now without pondering the events in Zimbabwe since the book was written. Almost fifteen years on a tyrant still rules, people are still oppressed, financial insecurity is still prevalent and no obvious solution is in sight.
Why? Why? Why? We are enveloped in the politics of hate. The amount of hate that is being preached in [Zimbabwe] today is frightful. What Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite. - Joshua Nkomo
Reviews of Mukiwa:
The Washington Post: From time to time a book comes out of Africa that is so good it grips American readers by their hearts. This should be one of those. Peter Godwin's memoir, Mukiwa, is a book drawing on a vast canvas: the sunset of white rule in Africa.
The Daily Telegraph: His memoir of those terrible years is a vividly scary adventure story, as well as a poignant portrit of a bitter moral dilemma.
William Boyd: Speaking as a former "white boy in Africa" myself I can both testify to and applaud the book's authenticity and Godwin's miraculous recall.
The Times: A book that goes to the heart of the white experience in the long death-throes of Rhodesia.
Kirkus Reviews: The insanity of war, the beauty and mystery of Africa, the chaotic death pangs of colonialism, an extraordinary coming-of-age: All swirl hauntingly together in this compelling account of the end of Rhodesia. A fervid blend of My Traitor's Heart, Dispatches, and Heart of Darkness, Godwin's account ranks with some of the finest war reportage of this century. It is also a ceaselessly honest and evocative memoir. A remarkable national and personal saga that, even in the darkest of its many dark moments, remains sensitive, insightful, and humane.
Stephen E Alford: Mukiwa is sober testimony to the gruesome ironies of growing up white in a land ready for justice, but unprepared for democracy.
Doris Lessing: A very good book, the best to come out of the War for Independence in Zimbabwe so far.