The last king of Scotland

This book review written for my minor international aid development course capita selecta.

The last king of Scotland is an book by Giles Foden. He is an journalist and in this book he focust on the rise of Ugandan president Idi Amin and his reign as dictator from 1971 to 1979. The book is written as the memoir of fictional Scottish doctor in Amin’s employ. Giles Foden’s book received critical acclaim and numerous awards when it was published by Faber and Faber in 1998. In 2006 a film by the samen name was produced based on the book.

Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who goes to work in Uganda out of a sense of idealism and adventure. He relates how he came to be the personal physician and confidant of Amin, the president of Uganda from his coup d’état in 1971 until his deposal in 1979. The book focuses on Garrigan’s relationship and fascination with the president, who soon grows into a brutal and ruthless dictator. Garrigan acts repeatedly against his better judgment, remaining in Amin’s employment until he is far past the point of easy escape physically or morally. He is gradually drawn into the corruption and paranoia of Amin’s rule, including the expulsion of the Asians, with disastrous results for those around him.

Drawing on his twenty years of living in Africa and his background as a journalist, Foden researched the events surrounding Amin’s rise to power and downfall. He interviewed many of those who watched and participated in the Ugandan ruler’s eight-year reign. The author evokes the form of a memoir by inserting fictional newspaper articles and journal entries, along with actual events.

In a 1998 interview with the online magazine Boldtype, Foden said he based parts of Garrigan’s character on an associate of Amin named Bob Astles. As a British soldier who worked his way into Amin’s favour, Astles was much more “proactive” than Garrigan, according to Foden. He paid the price by spending six and a half years in a Ugandan jail after the fall of his protector. Astles compromised himself by his direct association with Amin’s security forces. While Amin was in power, Astles was alternately either favoured or punished; he was imprisoned and tortured on at least one occasion. Another real-life figure who has been mentioned in connection with Garrigan is Scottish doctor Wilson Carswell.

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