Customer Reviews: The Last King of Scotland
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Idi Amin's bizarre and brutal eight years of dictatorship in Uganda are the setting for this assured debut. The narrator is Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who arrives in Uganda for a contract job at the same time as Amin's 1971 coup. The book is his recollection of his two years in a small town clinic and six years as Amin's personal doctor in Kampala. His story continues the Conradian tradition of the European man who comes to Africa and becomes transformed through his contact with evil. Amin is Garrigan's Kurtz, and while the doctor and other expats generally turn a blind eye to the truckloads of political prisoners being taken to the countryside to be executed, eventually Garrigan is dragged face to face with Amin's horror.
Of course this isn't pure Conrad, rather it's cut with a bit of William Boyd, another Englishman writer who's written compelling fiction about modern Africa and the legacy of colonial rule. For the horror here isn't that Garrigan begins to understand Amin (after all who could really hope to understand a man of Amin's awesome eccentricity), but begins to like him in an odd way. And it's not that the doctor is a weak character, he's actually remarkably average, and thus very much like ourselves. The reader is unable to to find solace in making easy smug judgments about Garrigan's gradual moral slide as he sucked more and more into Amin's confidence and makes small compromises with himself. Amin is a great character in his own right, lurching from buffoonery to gluttony to sly cunning to sheer incomprehensibility at the drop of a hat. Of course Fodden had a lot to work with, as many of Amin's deeds and speeches are classic examples of truth really being stranger than fiction.
Speaking oh which, Fodden went to great lengths in researching this novel, interviewing a wide range of people who witnessed Amin's reign. Alas, the Saudi government wouldn't grant him permission to interview Amin, who is still alive and living on a Saudi pension in Jeddah. Garrigan is loosely modeled on Bob Astles, a British WW2 veteran who somehow became Amin's closest advisor. Altogether a very good read, regrettably Fodden's next two books apparently don't live up to this one.
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on January 27, 2007
The fictitious memoirs of Nicholas Garrigan, personal physician to ex-Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Garrigan passively recounts his own fall into moral ambivalence as he describes Amin's erratic, homicidal rule. A surprising and disturbing book -- at times we find ourselves liking psychopathic, murderous Idi Amin more than we do the nebbish and irresolute Dr. Garrigan. The prose is crisp and pleasurable to read; at times this novel looses its focus, but overall it's a moving and affecting book which takes us on a journey not only through the personal landscapes of Garrigan and Amin, but which also provides flashes of insight into African society and politics and European-African relations.
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on December 23, 1999
Idi Amin Dada was the Gargantua of moral nightmares. He ruled post-colonial Uganda with the guile of a court jester, a likeable chap who kept the West in stitches while he flayed his enemies with the Devil's scalpel. Into this woofing madness comes our protagonist, Nicholas Garrigan, a healer with a warped mission of mercy as naive as Dr. Kildare, and Giles Foden begins to weave us into his tapestry of moral quandary. Step by step, Garrigan slip slides into the snakepit of evil, seemingly aware but oblivious, well-intentioned but complicit. It is all so properly justified, he says (scrub, scrub). I do not make moral judgments, he says (scrub, scrub). I am a doctor, he says (scrub, scrub), yet the innocent die all around him. Foden has taken the Gen-X theme of moral ambivalence and whacked us upside the head with it. Although Garrigan eventually escapes to his idyllic Scotland, he remains haunted by correspondence from Amin, as we remain haunted by the million more who recently died in Rwanda. Like Sartre said, there is no exit. Deal with it! A stunning debut.
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on March 21, 2000
This is an exciting debut novel. It is the story of one Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who is assigned to be the personal physician to Uganda's famous dictator, Idi Amin. Yet the young doctor discovers, to his own cost, that one can never be totally removed from the wild excesses of others... I read the first half of this novel breathlessly. The depiction of Uganda is intriguing. Perhaps this is due to morbid fascination: most people will be aware of Amin's bloody history. The knowledge that everything will go wrong draws you further into this book. Foden presents a compelling portrait of Amin, even to the extent of making him likeable. For instance, there is Amin's eccentric love of all things Scottish, and the peculiar messages he sends to other heads of state. But there is always a palpable fear for Garrigan whenever he's in Amin's presence. Amin is dangerous, for Garrigan never knows what he's going to do next, and how he will become embroiled in his bloody vengeance... I found the resolution to be quite disappointing. In his bid to escape Uganda, Garrigan literally stumbles across the worse excesses of Amin's regime, almost tripping over a pile of corpses. This is the only part of the novel where Foden's otherwise excellent research overwhelms. Uganda's bloody history is already well known, and it would have been far more effective for Garrigan to have remained in ignorance about the worst excesses. Garrigan becomes a mere cipher in Foden's bid to depict the downfall of Amin. But this is only really disappointing in contrast to the excellent first part. Overall, it well deserves its critical success.
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on August 1, 1998
The title was what grabbed my initial attention. The second paragraph had my complete attention and fascination - Giles Foden writes: "Back in my old neighbourhood, I'd seen to Idi once. On his bullying visits to the gum-booted old chiefs out there, he would drive a red Maserati maincally down the dirt tracks. Walking in the evenings, under the telegraph poles where the kestrels perched, you could tell where he'd been - the green fringe of grass down the middle of the track would be singed brown by the burning sump of the low-slung car." How inappropriate a red Maserati must have been in the depths of Uganda over 20 years ago!
The book is a novel suppossedly based on the diaries of Idi Amin's personal Physician Nicholas Garrigan. I have no knowledge of whether such a person existed but the cover states that it is based closely on historical events. I learn't alot of fascinating things about Uganda and its connections with Israel, Libya, Britain and t! he US. Giles Foden writes about the every day lives of the people (mostly expatriates) living in Uganda at the time and their interaction with Idi Amin. His accounts of various incidents is humorous and insightful. Nicholas Garrigan is drawn into a spiral of events in which he takes up the position of personal physician to Idi Amin and then chooses not to leave through his fascination with Amin. As I have never been to Uganda I cannot comment on whether it is relevant to life in Uganda but it seems convincing. Fascinating too are the letters written by Idi Amin to Margaret Thatcher and President Nixon. A really good read although one feels desperate for the people of Uganda and the anguish and loss that they went through.
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on March 8, 2000
I never heard of Giles Foden but his title and premise looked interesting so I gave it a try. What a find! His imagination is ripe for satire and dark humor which I devoured. The story of a Scottish doctor in the British foreign service who excepts Idi Amin Dada's invitation to become his doctor is at times droll, funny and horrifying. It encompasses most of Amin's reign including the Entebbe raid by the Israelis. Foden does a superb job of making Amin ruthless and charming. But Foden's best asset is that his novel is never predictable. Foden is an author I'd like to see write again.
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on September 6, 2015
There were some great parts of this book that kept me engrossed and then there were dry pointless parts that bored me and made the book seem to last forever. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and it is very rare for me to prefer the book over the movie but without a doubt this was one of those times.
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on April 29, 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I learned so much about Africa and the incredible mind of Idi Amin. I found the second half of the book much more interesting than the first part.
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on July 1, 2014
The Last King of Scotland is a fictional novel about Uganda and the rise and fall of Idi Amin as told through the eyes of the protagonist, Dr. Nicholas Garrison. Dr. Garrison comes from Scotland to Uganda to serve as a doctor in a medical clinic. Through happenstance, he works on Idi Amin after Amin was in a car accident. Idi Amin decided to have Dr. Garrison become his personal physician. During that time, Dr. Garrison also became a confidant of Amin’s.

I was looking forward to reading this book and learning more about Ugandan culture and on the reign of Idi Amin. I did finish the book feeling a connection to a place, such as any good historical novel will do. I did not, however, feel any connection to the protagonist. I found Doctor Garrison to be a person lacking in depth and easily swayed by those around him, which may have been the author’s intention.

The first third of the book dealt with the Doctor’s arrival in Uganda and his living and working in Uganda prior to his first encounter with Idi Amin. I really enjoyed this section. It gave me an appreciation of how challenging life was at that time in Uganda, and it described the culture and the people very well. However, this section began to drag and it was past time to move on to the next section of the book.

The last two-thirds focused on Dr. Garrison’s work as Idi Amin’s personal physician and on Amin’s dictatorial and brutal reign of Uganda, and subsequent fall from power. I was in my early teens during Amin’s reign and knew of his atrocities, but reading about them was very difficult in some places (a sign of good writing). I felt the author did an excellent job of creating a portrait of Idi Amin as a man, a military leader, and a dictator. The description of Amin made it very clear that he suffered from delusions of grandeur and was in most likelihood not mentally stable, perhaps even bipolar; which puts me in mind of some current dictators in the world.

Although the story is very good, I struggled with reading through a number of chapters. In addition to the first part of the book dragging, there were other sections of the book that were too wordy and tangential to the main story. For example, one fifteen-page chapter described one of Amin’s weddings in unnecessary and excruciating detail down to the church's crown molding. Another example is taking three pages to describe how to clean battle wounds. For me, the book started on the wrong note when the protagonist discussed his defecation at the very beginning of the book. I really did not need these unnecessary visuals - Amin provided enough awful visuals (that were story related).

I learned a great deal about Africa, Uganda and Idi Amin through this book. There were many parts of the book that were eloquently written and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about this part of history.
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on December 23, 2012
Idi Amin's short reign in Uganda should be the stuff of fiction, and it is the country's loss that it was not. His delusions of grandeur, power-aggrandizing killings, self promotion, and misuse of the vast resources of the country are well woven into this historical novel, where the author uses a fictional personal physician of Amin as narrator. Interestingly, as the narrator finds himself sucked into the dictator's charisma, so does the reader. The book is an easy way to learn a bit about a troubled piece of history in Uganda, and the truly sad thing is that the rise of corrupt and ruthless leaders has been repeated throughout much of Africa since its countries became independent. The book is a bit tedious toward the end when the narrator is ruminating on all that he has seen and experienced, but the rest of the book makes it well worth the read.
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