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by Giles Foden

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-40360-4
Publisher: Knopf

A remarkable debut novel by British journalist Foden (The Guardian), who describes—in the best Conradian tones—an idealistic young physician’s descent into the maelstrom of Idi Amin’s Uganda. In a remote and wintry corner of Scotland, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan is trying to look back—through the snow piling up outside his window—on his days in the tropics. The son of a Scots Presbyterian minister, Nick grew up in the wee town of Fossiemuir and saw very little of the world beyond Edinburgh before passing his medical exams and accepting a post with the Ministry of Health that sent him to Uganda in the early 1970s. This, then, “is a story of various strange happenings in Central Africa, happenings which involved the author, Nicholas Garrigan, in a professional and private capacity.” And how: Nick landed in Uganda just as Idi Amin was transforming his Emperor Jones’style autocracy into a full-fledged reign of terror, and Nick not only survived the bloodletting but rose (through the typical succession of circumstantial flukes that controls these things) to become Amin’s personal physician. From his place at the Emperor’s right hand, he witnessed all the absurdities, barbarisms, and venalities symbolizing much of postcolonial Africa —tribal wars, the scapegoating of Asian “profiteers,” palace intrigues, assassinations. There was one horror, though, that Nick couldn—t be prepared for: he actually came to like Amin as a person. This affection makes for difficulties when, in the novel’s foreground action, British operatives try to enlist him in a plot to poison the dictator: his refusal to take part in the scheme makes for even more trouble after Amin falls from power and Nick must seek asylum in a Britain that now views him as an alien functionary. In the end, of course, Nick comes to see that he has been an alien from the start—a recognition that’s little consolation but no minor achievement. Lurid and delightful, written with wit and real maturity. (First serial rights to Granta)