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The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden
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The Last King of Scotland (1998)

by Giles Foden

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“It is the bad spirit that has come over this place. My grandmother says that it will only go away when you see a dog and a goat riding a bicycle together.”

This is a novel encompassing both historical fact and fiction. In the novel, Scotsman Nicholas Garrigan tells how he came to be Idi Amin's personal physician,sometime confidant and of his subsequent adventures.

One of the novel's major concerns is Garrigan's relationship with Amin, a brutal dictator, and why Garrigan is so fascinated by the leader that he does not leave, even when faced with the certain knowledge of Amin's atrocities.

Foden in many respects has written two great characters. Garrigan is a totally passive observer who due to indecision, naivete and weakness ends up trying to rationalise the atrocities being perpetrated about him. This horror is implicit rather than graphic. You end up feeling a little sympathy for Garrigan's situation without really liking the man himself.In contrast Idi Amin is shown as being capable of kindness and humour as well as anger and brutality rather than being painted as some pantomime villain. Despite being a despot he has great charisma and aura about him which matches his sizeable stature which suggests that it is not just fear that makes people follow him. And perhaps that is really the central theme of this book, that anyone else in Garrigan's situation might finding themselves doing as he did.

Recently I have taken a great interest in literature written about Africa just before or after the various countries independence from colonial rule with books like A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali and The Catastrophist. Idi Amin before independence was a mere sergeant in the Army and had very little education yet became a ruler of millions just like so many post-colonial leaders who found themselves in similar situations. So in many respects it is hardly surprising that even today the continent is busy tearing itself apart. In fact Amin was initially welcomed by the UK Government when he took power.

The pace of this book is quite slow but never so much so that you want to give up on it. Rather it increases the intensity of the action when it does happen. On the whole I found this an enjoyable read and you can see how Foden has used his 20 years experience as a journalist to good use. However, IMHO it just lacked a little something to make it a really memorable read. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Apr 16, 2015 |
'My life story...It is very exciting. Because, as you know, I am the hero of all Africa', July 26, 2014

This review is from: The Last King of Scotland (Kindle Edition)
As a female reader who doesn't 'do' war/ politics/ espionage, I wasn't sure I'd like this, but I really enjoyed it, especially the earlier part which others have criticized as 'slow''!
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. ( )
  starbox | Jul 26, 2014 |
Detailed book describing the history of how Idi Amin rose to power. Explained the countries that made his ascension possible as well as Amin's love/fetish with everything Scotland. Made the reader aware that things were much more convoluted that than which was presented in the movie. It was the movie that made me want to read this book, and the written story motivated me to re-watch the film. ( )
  LibStre | Feb 14, 2014 |
The Last King of Scotland chronicles the rise and fall of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator through the eyes of a naive Scottish doctor named Nicholas Garrigan. From a historical context, the story is quite interesting. It is obvious that Foden did his research and he provides an interesting view on Amin. Although Foden did have to take some liberties with filling in the blanks on Amin's character, I think he does a good job in providing a different viewpoint and showing differences between Amin the dictator and Amin the person. With that said, I don't think this would be enjoyable for people not very much interested in politics or history. While there is some action and adventure, this is very much a novel that delves into politics and the consequences of rulers' actions.

Much of the first half could have been cut out without any consequence to the story itself. Foden takes a long time to get through setting up the atmosphere and culture of Uganda. While I appreciated being so thoroughly immersed in the setting of the story, after awhile, the overly long descriptions of the landscapes and Garrigan's naive outlook on African life gets a bit boring. There were times I would zone out for thirty to forty-minutes and was able to pick back up again without feeling like I'd missed anything.

The second half, however, is a different story. It quickly picks up and finally some action gets started. Wars erupt between Uganda and neighboring countries, and Garrigan realizes how ruthless and crazy Amin can be. He decides to return home but has to do so without Amin's knowledge. This makes for some great adventure and suspense-filled chapters. While I found it hard to get through half an hour of the beginning of the novel, near the end, I listened to about three hours at once and didn't find it at all difficult. I thought the ending was perfect and it really showed how much Garrigan has grown throughout the course of the novel. But I don't think that the last part of the novel makes up for the tediousness of the first part. This is a book I could have done without.

While I wasn't a fan of the story, the narration is very good. Mirron Willis does a great job with the accents and the different characters' voices. I wasn't a fan of Sarah's voice, but I wasn't a fan of Sarah the character either, so it worked out. There were times when Willis would meld the Ugandan accent and the Scottish accent when switching back and forth from Amin and Garrigan, but it only lasted for a second. I always like listening to first-person novels in audiobook format, because it adds a little more personality to it. If you're going to read this at all, I would say that audio is the way to go as long as the length of it doesn't bother you. Much of the enjoyment I got out of The Last King of Scotland was enhanced by the audiobook. I most definitely would have given up on a print version. ( )
  sedelia | Jun 3, 2012 |
This book does not belong on my bookshelf. Slow until the final 5th of the book. Had hard time concentrating on story due to lack of story in the first 4/5ths of the book. ( )
  casanders2015 | Aug 5, 2011 |
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Loose ends, things unrelated, shifts, nightmare yourneys, cities arrived at and left, meetings, desertions, betrayals, all manner of unions, adulteries, triumphs, defeats ... these are the facts.
Alexander Trocchi, Cain's Book (1960)
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I did almost nothing on my first day as Idi Amin's doctor.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375703314, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:47 -0400)

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'The Last King of Scotland' combines elements of thriller noir with brilliant comedy, in the grand tradition of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and, more recently, William Boyd. Serious concerns are mixed with extravagant spectacle.

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