No, we're not talking Bonnie Prince Charlie here. The title character of Giles Foden's debut novel, The Last King of Scotland
, is none other than Idi Amin, the former dictator of Uganda. Told from the viewpoint of Nicholas Garrigan, Amin's personal physician, the novel chronicles the hell that was Uganda in the 1970s. Garrigan, the only son of a Scots Presbyterian minister, finds himself far away from Fossiemuir when he accepts a post with the Ministry of Health in Uganda. His arrival in Kampala coincides with the coup that leads to President Obote's overthrow and Idi Amin Dada's ascendancy to power. Garrigan spends only a few days in the capital city, however, before heading out to his assignment in the bush. But a freak traffic accident involving Amin's sports car and a cow eventually brings the good doctor into the dictator's orbit; a few months later, Garrigan is recalled from his rural hospital and named personal physician to the president. Soon enough, Garrigan finds himself caught between his duty to his patient and growing pressure from his own government to help them control Amin.
From Nicholas Garrigan's catbird seat, Foden guides us through the horrors of Amin's Uganda. It would be simple enough to make the dictator merely monstrous, but Foden defies expectation, rendering him appealing even as he terrifies. The doctor "couldn't help feeling awed by the sheer size of him and the way, even in those unelevated circumstances, he radiated a barely restrained energy...I felt--far from being the healer--that some kind of elemental force was seeping into me." And Garrigan makes a fine stand-in for Conrad's Marlow as he travels up a river of blood from Naiveté to horrified recognition of his own complicity. As if this weren't enough, Foden also treats us to a finely drawn portrait of Africa in all its natural, political, and social complexity. The Last King of Scotland makes for dark but compelling reading. --Alix Wilber, Amazon.com
'A gripping tale of tropical corruption... This is a wonderful read, beautifully written, every description drenched with a sense of Africa.' --Spectator
'As convincing and terrifying a portrait of a capricious tyrant as I have ever read. Foden captures with absolute fidelity the fascination of a figure like Amin.' --Anthony Daniels, Evening Standard
'Catches to perfection Idi Amin's contradictory, murderous, playful, brutal, sentimental character.' --Former prime minister James Callaghan, Sunday Times