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This fine but hollow novel tells us as much, or more, about the state of modern Europe as about the '70s Africa in which it is set. It's the kind of thing Graham Greene might have written had he not been Catholic, a tale of the struggle between evil and...well, nothing. Nicholas Garrigan is a young Scottish doctor with no apparent ties to anything or anyone and seemingly devoid of any awareness that he, or anyone else for that matter, has a soul.

Garrigan travels to Uganda in 1971 to take up a post with the Ministry of Health just before Idi Amin takes power. Over the 8 years and half a million deaths of Amin's reign Garrigan becomes his personal physician and, though not personally -- or at least not intentionally -- involved in the torture and murder of the dictator is at least a witness and a disturbingly passive one. Indeed, he refuses to intervene despite obvious opportunity, requests from British intelligence, and the desperate pleas of victims he knows. The book is ostensibly about this failure to take action in the face of evil, but there are a couple problems. First, Mr. Foden does such a good job of portraying Idi Amin, and Garrigan is such a cypher, that the dictator is more compelling than the doctor. The title of the book comes from Amin's fascination with all things Scottish -- thus his choice of doctors -- and this along with his other crazy peculiarities takes the edge off of his undeniable evilness. Mr. Foden does convey a sufficient sense of the terror and horror that Amin imposed that we can understand Dr. Garrigan's fear of acting, but he also makes Amin so charismatic and Garrigan so weak that the latter doesn't even seem a worthy foe. Amin wasn't a great man, but he was larger than life. Garrigan, on the other hand, is smaller than life. Where Greene would have been able to talk of him as a man who had put his immortal soul in danger, Mr. Foden is stuck with a secular European of the late 20th Century and there's no evidence that his "hero" has so much as a conscience. Unfortunately, this means there's not much drama inherent in the choices Garrigan makes. If the world is as devoid of meaning as Garrigan's character suggests, why not keep an Idi Amin around since he's at least amusing?


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

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See also:

Historical Fiction
Giles Foden Links:

    -Giles Foden (British Council)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Giles Foden (IMDB.com)
    -ESSAY: Black Heather Club: As Idi Amin lies critically ill in hospital, author Giles Foden examines the former Ugandan tyrant's obsession with bagpipes, kilts and Scottish independence (Giles Foden, 27 July 2003, Sunday Herald)
    -ESSAY: My brutal muse: Idi Amin was one of the most evil dictators in modern history, butchering hundreds of thousands of his own people. And for one young novelist he became an obsession. As the tyrant lies on his death bed, Giles Foden recalls the remarkable life of his tragicomic hero (Giles Foden, July 24, 2003, The Guardian)
    Black Heather Club: As Idi Amin lies critically ill in hospital, author Giles Foden examines the former Ugandan tyrant's obsession with bagpipes, kilts and Scottish independence (Giles Foden, 27 July 2003, Sunday Herald)
    -ESSAY: Waugh versus Hollywood: Evelyn Waugh's disdain for the cinema is revealed in memos he sent to the 'Californian savages' during negotiations over film versions of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop. Giles Foden decodes two unconventional treatments (Giles Foden, May 22, 2004, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Method and the medium: The relationship between writers and technology has often been antagonistic. Giles Foden on how to work in harmony with your PC (Giles Foden, 10/16/03,The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The good, the bad and the hypocritical: George Bush's Manichean world-view reflects his personal transformation (Giles Foden, June 14, 2003, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: War of the worlds: It has become synonymous with the terrorist attacks of September 11 - but what is the origin of the name al-Qaida? Giles Foden on how Bin Laden may have been inspired by Isaac Asimov's Foundation (Giles Foden, August 24, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: When authors take sides: Should writers engage with politics? Giles Foden reports on the war of words over the crisis in the Middle East (Giles Foden and John Mullan, April 27, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: All fired up: Is there more to pottery than pretty glazes and teapots that pour? Continuing our series on 'difficult' art forms, Giles Foden unearths the secrets of ceramics and discovers what turns a simple clay cup into a museum piece (Giles Foden, October 20, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Blowback chronicles: Giles Foden on the murky deals that fuelled international terrorism (Giles Foden, September 15, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Just how good is he?: Never mind the misogyny and homophobia, Eminem is a brilliant poet. As the controversial rapper heads for Britain, Giles Foden explains why he belongs in the pantheon of literary greats (Giles Foden, February 6, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Classic journeys: Tourists have long flocked to places made famous by writers and their novels. Author Giles Foden looks at the lasting link between literature and holidays (Giles Foden, February 23, 2002, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The Taliban's unusual bedfellows: Tony Blair is reported to have swotted up on Afghanistan from a bestselling book. So what does it say? (Giles Foden, October 10, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The sorcerers' apprentice: Where did Harry learn his trade? Giles Foden conjures up a short history of wizards in literature (Giles Foden, July 1, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Dead arms down under: Wine, sun and bookchat - Giles Foden spent a week in Australia for the Adelaide Literary Festival (Giles Foden, March 10, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Scroll to the future: Will the internet revolutionise books? Giles Foden wonders if the past might show us the way web literature will go (Giles Foden, January 22, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: 'Sad-eyed chronicler of sex and sin': 'My books don't make good films,' said Graham Greene. As Neil Jordan's The End of the Affair hopes to change all that, Giles Foden looks back at the novelist's unrequited love affair with the cinema (Giles Foden, January 7, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The time of our lives: The Guardian Century supplements end today. Giles Foden describes how he chose their contents from millions of words (Giles Foden, December 11, 1999, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: 100 books that made a century (Giles Foden, January 20, 1997, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: My life in writing: God no longer wants you: Philip Gourevitch, the Guardian First Book Award winner (Giles Foden, December 4, 1999, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography edited by Colin Matthew, Brian Harrison et al (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Any Human Heart by William Boyd (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke and Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen by Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of To the Last City by Colin Thubron (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hunting Pirate Heaven: A Voyage in Search of the Lost Pirate Settlements of the Indian Ocean by Kevin Rushby (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Government's Annual Report by The Stationery Office (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Malt Whisky Companion by Michael Jackson (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of I Die, But the Memory Lives On: The World's Aids Crisis and the Memory Book Project by Henning Mankell trans Laurie Thompson (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hare Soup by Dorothy Molloy (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Youth by JM Coetzee (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Music Laid Her Songs in Language by Michael Haslam (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of I'm Off by Jean Echenoz, trans Guido Waldman (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Corsairville: The Lost Domain of the Flying Boat by Graham Coster (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Penguin Book of War: Great Military Writings ed John Keegan and The Vintage Book of War Stories ed Sebastian Faulks and Jorg Hensgen (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Strength of Poetry by James Fenton (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock-eating Cave Bugs, and other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space by Michael Ray Taylor (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Pale Abyssinian: A Life of James Bruce, African Explorer and Adventurer by Miles Bredin (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Wild Shore: Life and Death with Nicaragua's Last Shark Hunters by Edward Marriott (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears by Tom Lutz and Laughter: A Scientific Investigation by Robert R. Provine (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Gentleman Spies: Intelligence Agents in the British Empire and Beyond by John Fisher (Giles Foden, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of MORENGA By Uwe Timm (Giles Foden, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa By Antjie Krog and Fault Lines: Journeys Into the New South Africa By David Goodman (Giles Foden, Village Voice)
    -BOOK LIST: Giles Foden chooses books on the Afghanistan crisis (The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Bold Type: Interview with Giles Foden (Random House)
    -ARCHIVES: "giles foden" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden (MICHAEL UPCHURCH, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden (MICHIKO KAKUTANI , NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Last King of Scotland (Merle Rubin, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Last King of Scotland (William Boyd, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of Last King of Scotland (Brooke Allen, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW: of Last King of Scotland (Christopher Hess, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Ladysmith by Giles Foden (Toby Mundy, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Mimi and Toutou Go Forth by Giles Foden (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of MIMI AND TOUTOU'S BIG ADVENTURE: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika By Giles Foden (James Bowman, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of MIMI AND TOUTOU'S BIG ADVENTURE: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika By Giles Foden (Ben MacIntyre, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Zanzibar by Giles Foden (James Francken, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Zanzibar by Giles Foden (Anthony Holden, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Zanzibar (Jeremy O’Kasick, In These Times)
    -REVIEW: of Zanzibar (Harry Mount, The Spectator)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The all-purpose bogeyman Idi Amin was up to his elbows in blood, says Tom Stacey, but the appalling truth is that he had some admirable qualities (The Spectator, 8/23/03)
   
-ESSAY: He will not be missed (Mark Steyn, 27/07/2003, Daily Telegraph)
    -OBIT: Like every African dictator, he was confusion's masterpiece (Anthony Daniels, 17/08/2003, Daily Telegraph)
    -OBIT: Death of a Dictator: Idi Amin: 1925 - 2003: From respected colonial soldier to brutal butcher of hundreds of thousands of his people, Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg recalls the madness and terror of Uganda’s notorious tyrant (Fred Bridgland, 17 August 2003, Sunday Herald)
    -ESSAY: Amin’s Final Stop: Letting a dead monster back into the country he terrorized. (Ron Mwangaguhunga, 7/31/2003, National Review)

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