The author, the late Heidi Holland, did not have dinner with Mugabe. The book is about the evolution of the small, clever boy, idolised by his peculiar mother who was a thwarted nun, abandoned by his father and committed to both black independence and Marxism into a brutal dictator who would do anything to stay in power. She thinks that the terrible event of his not being allowed out of prison to go his small son's funeral is a deciding factor in his life. With the author's interpretation, there is the feeling that he is a man, driven into evil. The more political the story becomes, moving from Mugabe morally engaged for independence, to one of deep corruption, mass violence, murders, a war... However, the extensive interviews with the very grand and warm Lady Soames, daughter of Churchill, wife of the last governor of Rhodesia, Sir Christopher who had been close to Mugabe was fascinatingly full of insights into British political life under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Because I disagree with her assessment of Mugabe means that I think she concentrated on some parts of his life and ignored others to prove her thesis, even if this was done unconsciously.
While I'm reading books like Dinner with Mugabe to remedy that fact, my lack of (embarrassingly enough) even basic knowledge in many cases made it difficult for me to connect to several of the events that Holland uses to examine Robert Mugabe. The purpose of the book was not so much to describe how Mugabe affected Zimbabwe for the worse (Holland, and probably most others not in ZANU-PF, take for granted that he did), but rather to use psychology to examine how it was he made such decisions. (Likewise, what he views as later betrayals by whites in Zimbabwe and by Britain and America fueled that need to seek revenge.) And finally, the effect of those around him kow-towing to his every wish and whim eventually made him "succumb to his power lust as well as to retribution rather than serving Zimbabwe in the best interests of the people who once idolized him" (216). (Obviously Mugabe and those close to him would not be reliable, and she notes this, but otherwise it seems to be taken for granted that the majority of her interviews are from reliable or semi-reliable sources.) I also don't think that she does enough to examine how countries ought to react to similar leaders today and in the future, if as she says the purpose of her book is to make it so we can learn from Mugabe to keep similar tyrants from being shaped and/or coming to power.
Never before have I actually pushed myself to read a book that I admittedly found repulsive at several points.
Who is Robert Mugabe? These are the questions that Heidi Holland attempts to answer in her book, Dinner With Mugabe. In between her next meeting with Mugabe - in a 2007 interview - much has changed in the country formerly known as Rhodesia. Not so much what happened to Zimbabwe (although that cannot be divorced from the apparent changes in the demeanour, temperament and disposition of its leader), but what happened to the Robert Mugabe of the 70's and 80's?
In her final analysis she suggests giving Mugabe some respect when trying to engage with the man through dialogue which I commend her for. As it stands it is very sad the lengths Mugabe has gone to in order to try and send home this message.
Those hoping for a challenge to their assumptions or new insight into Mugabe would be disappointed, but it's a well written and researched book.
This book is a series of interviews: This is Your Life, Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.
In order to get any comment from Mugabe, Holland had to paint a somewhat decent picture of him.