The Last King of Scotland Paperback – 28 Jan 1999
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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
"Genuinely beautiful and disturbing." --"The Village Voice""This decidedly quirky yet absorbing first novel--that brings to mind the diabolical Evelyn Waugh." --"Los Angeles Times Book Review"
"Genuinely beautiful and disturbing." --The Village Voice"This decidedly quirky yet absorbing first novel--that brings to mind the diabolical Evelyn Waugh." --Los Angeles Times Book Review --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top customer reviews
When a young Scottish doctor goes out to work in a clinic in 1970s Uganda, he little imagines that a chance meeting will cause the new dictator, Idi Amin, to select him as his personal physician. Foden's descriptions of the country and people really bring the pages alive; later he manages to imbue the horrific Amin with the charisma and charm that keep Dr Garrigan hanging on in the country when his fellow countrymen have fled.
' "Please help me", he said again, leaning closer. I could feel his breath in my ear. His voice was slow this time, like dripping honey.
My head spun. The softness of his voice had awakened in me an emotion I could hardly begin to understand....The emotion I felt for him was pity, and I knew that the way out of the darkness into which I had allowed myself to fall was to help him.'
Although Garrigan is fictitional, he is based - very loosely - around one Bob Astle, a white British associate of Amin, whose complicity in his master's actions is open to debate.
I felt I learned a lot from reading this, notably the Entebbe raid, which was just a name to me beforehand. Really gripping.
What separates this from the average political book is the degree of humanity that can be seen within the characters; Idi Amin is not portrayed as a two-dimensional pantomime monster, but a real person capable of kindness and cheer as well as anger and brutality.
All this is seen through the eyes of Scottish doctor Dr Nicholas Garrigan who befriends the controversial leader; taking him down a road which addresses the concept of power, corruption and morality, in one of the most beautiful and exciting landscapes in the world. It's not a struggle to feel empathy with Garrigan who is, to the credit of the author, a very realistic and believable character desperately trying to stay grounded in an increasingly dramatic and morbid situation.
Whilst the pace of the book is often slow, the several intense and frankly shocking plot twists are more than rewarding enough to keep you going through the dry spells. Those who are normally intimidated by the thought of reading a novel on such a `heavy' subject shouldn't be put off as there is also a dry humor to be found. However some of the imagery may be slightly shocking and disturbing, so some book lovers should stay away if that's not their cup of tea
Arguably, most people will have gained knowledge of this novel through the recent film of the same name. For those who enjoyed the film, there is a wealth of background character that can be gained from the novel making it a must read. For those who didn't enjoy the film, there is little that the novel is likely to offer as they are similar in both tone and delivery.
In conclusion, `Last King of Scotland' is successful because it is ultimately a stark and bold commentary on both humanity and the mechanisms of power such as politics.
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Giles Foden delves into the world of the notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada and his well-known ruler ship over the African nation for 8...Read more
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