Sunday, June 29, 2008

Reviewed: Holland on Mugabe and Akpan's African Stories

With Zimbabwe in the news this week, two new books on Africa are reviewed in the weekend newspapers. The first is Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant by Heidi Holland (Penguin Global), reviewed by Karl Maier for the Chicago Tribune. According to Maier, the author

peels back the layers of Mugabe's character through a series of interviews with people who know him best: former guerrillas, relatives, Catholic priests and the president himself in a rare encounter. The result is the best attempt yet to understand the mind of Mugabe. Step by step, Holland shows how one of Zimbabwe's most erudite Africans became a paranoid tyrant who has bankrupted his country and brutalized a generation....

Holland shows how Mugabe's childhood taste for revenge has colored his journey from the village of Kutama to the pinnacle of power in Zimbabwe. When leaders from the minority Ndebele tribe challenged his authority in the 1980s, Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained troops, killing tens of thousands in Matabeleland. When some whites backed the opposition in the late 1990s, he let mobs drive them from their farms, sparking economic catastrophe.

"Our present state of mind is that you are now enemies because you really have behaved as enemies of Zimbabwe," Mugabe chillingly told white farmers in a 2000 TV address to mark the 20th anniversary of the country's independence.
Continue reading here.

Also reviewed is a collection of short stories, SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM by Uwem Akpan. Susan Straight writes in the Washington Post that "these five stories -- set in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Benin -- are all about children and their perilous, confusing lives, their searches for bits of grace and transcendence along with food, family and survival. This link allows a huge, perplexing continent to be known in intimate ways." The author's "incredible talent as a writer prevents" the most tragic of the stories "from becoming a polemic, diatribe or object lesson." The rest is here. Read an excerpt here.