Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dinner with Mugabe - important AND compelling.

Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland (Penguin Books, 2008) A non-fiction book explaining the life of Robert Mugabe, all leading up to the moment when this journalist interviewed him for the second time. The first was in 1975 when he was a freedom fighter and hiding out at her house. The second time was in 2005, when he’d become one of the most hated men in history. A lot happened in between, and Heidi Holland explains it all.
For one reason or another, I haven’t really read much this week. I kind of feel that, if the fancy doesn’t take you, it’s not worth picking a book up. The Great Gatsby is next in line for me, and for a book with so much history, I don’t want to spoil it by forcing myself to read it on a drizzly morning on the train when I have other things on my mind.
So I had a look at my book shelf and thought what’s going to help me get back in the reading mood? Which book can I flick through, remembering how it felt to read it, to carry it around with for a couple of weeks? Which book will give me back my appetite?
Dinner with Mugabe jumped out.
Not an obvious choice. There are other books on my shelf that were more exciting. Books that were more interesting. Books whose pages I turned quicker.
But none that achieved what this one did. This is a book that managed to teach me quite a lot, whilst also being really quite compelling. That’s not only difficult to achieve, it’s also really quite rare. I’ve read my fair share of books that I’ve learnt from. From the ones you’re forced to read at school, to the ones I picked up because I thought I should find out more about specific things. On the whole, most of them are a bit of a struggle to get through. I tend to get about half way through and then realise that, in fact, I’m not all that interested in the Civil War anymore, and can I just put it down and read a quick fun book instead please?
That’s not to say I regret reading them. I picked them up in the first place for a reason, and I’m glad that I do know more about stuff because of them. But they are, on the whole, not written to entertain.
This one did though. Maybe it was because all I knew about Mugabe before this book was what’s happened in the last ten years. I felt like every page was revealing something new. I, of course, knew the end game. I knew the evil he has done. But I didn’t know why he did it, or where it came from.
To be honest, what he’s done is so big that I still don’t fully understand where it all came from, but I have a better idea than I did before.
Perhaps what made this book is that Mugabe’s life and the modern history of Zimbabwe is a proper story. There’s a real sense of drama, of potential, of lost opportunity. And knowing that it’s all real breaks your heart as you read it.
This book is important. And Heidi Holland has made it accessible. You don’t have to struggle to feel its lessons.
Go. Read it. Understand an important part of modern history. Don’t just hate the guy for no reason. Understand why you should. Understand the tragedy of what he’s done, and where it came from.
So two of the three highest GBR scores so far are from non-fiction. And no one’s got a 9 yet. I need to go read a really good fiction book. The Great Gatsby anyone? (There you go, I knew that’d get my appetite back).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the reviews Gav. You are pointing me in the direction of books I wouldn't otherwise have heard of or necessarily picked myself. Once I get through the large stack of books I currently have I will be working my way through some of these!
Keep it up.