Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden was originally published in 1998. My trade paperback copy is 335 pages. Foden's historical fiction novel is written as if a memoir from Nicholas Garrigan, a physician and the only son of a Presbyterian minister. Garrigan finds himself far away from Scotland when he accepts a post with the Ministry of Health in Uganda in the 1970s and eventually becomes Idi Amin's personal physician. This is a chilling extrapolation of what could happen when an average person is taken into the confidence of a charismatic sociopath. While fearing Amin almost from the start, Garrigan, representing an average man, actually became annoying to me as he continued to display moral ambivalence and inertia even while learning more about Amin's brutalities. I have not watched the movie of the same name. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
Shortly after his arrival in Uganda, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan is called to the scene of a bizarre accident: Idi Amin, careening down a dirt road in his red Maserati, has run over a cow. When Garrigan tends to Amin, the dictator, in his obsession for all things Scottish, appoints him as his personal physician. As flattered as he is surprised, Garrigan accepts - and so begins a fateful dalliance with the central African leader whose Emperor Jones-style autocracy would evolve into a reign of terror.

The Last King of Scotland blazes a new trail in the heart of darkness. Foden's Amin is as ridiculous as he is abhorrent: a grown man who must be burped like an infant, a self-proclaimed cannibalist who, at the end of his 8 years in power, would be responsible for 300,000 deaths. And as Garrigan awakens to his patient's baroque barbarism - and his own complicity in it - we enter a venturesome meditation on conscience, charisma, and the slow corruption of the human heart.


"I did almost nothing on my first day as Idi Amin's doctor" first sentence

"That was Idi's way, you see, punish of reward. You couldn't say no. Or I didn't think back then, that you could. Or I didn't really think about it at all." pg. 3

"There was none, in our household, of that 'express yourself' mentality that is today's common wisdom. So if I was ever wild as a young boy, I was wild in my head, which was full of wandering yearnings: I was mad for maps and stamps and adventure stories." pg. 19

"As for the narrative I am presenting in these pages, it is nothing but the working-up of a journal I made at the time." pg. 20

"The Uganda Armed Forces have this day decided to take over power from Obote and hand it to our fellow soldier Major-General Idi Amin Dada..." pg. 32

"There is a hill there called kobuko, which the story says was blown by a mystery power from Maya, in Sudan. This strange force pushed it in space to Uganda and where it landed it killed all the people who were before there. For kobuko means in Kakwa the thing which smothers of covers you, stopping your breath." pg. 83

"...what surprised me was how the badger escapes bee stings: apparently, he first claws a small hole in the hive, then turns around, holds on tight, and stuns them with a blast of noxious gas from his behind." pg. 100

"Once I had pieced it all together, I felt foolish, deficient in an almost physical way - it had all been there before my very eyes." pg. 113

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