Thursday, November 8, 2007

Book Review: The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden

Set in Uganda, the rather tenuous link to Scotland refers to one of Idi Amin's most bizarre self-bestowed titles, due to his defiance of the British Government. This novel, author Giles Foden's first, sees a Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, caught up in the events that ravaged Uganda from the beginning to the end of Amin's reign, eventually becoming personally involved with the dictator himself.

The story begins slowly, with Amin's seizure of power simpy a background to Garrigan's life as a village doctor, but as conflict becomes more a part of his life, his life becomes linked to Amin's and eventually lies subject to the ruler's whim. Garrigan finds himself strangely drawn to Idi Amin, despite random acts of brutality and the systematic destruction of Uganda that occurs and readers are treated to a superb portrayal of Amin's schizophrenic character.

Whilst this is a very well written novel, much of the excitement is due to the drama of the real events that the main character becomes involved in. I had only a vague knowledge of these events and found the book hard to put down, but others, more familiar with the conflict in Uganda and the Israeli raid on Entebbe might find The Last King of Scotland a little like reading old news bulletins. Foden undoubtedly creates an exciting, and at times amusing and even grotesque, novel, perhaps this is largely due to the time and place it is set within? Indeed, that Foden's consequent novels have not lived up to this one suggests that this is true.

This book is highly recommended as an historical novel, with an excellent character portrayal of one of the world's most brutal and bizarre dictators. The Last King of Scotland is a highly enjoyable book but readers should be prepared to encounter a plot which relies heavily upon real-life events.
Score: 8.5/10

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