Thursday, April 08, 2010

Book Review: The Last King of Scotland

It is said that books can transport you to other places, so really, I was doubly well travelled on my recent holiday. In the course of the week, as well as being in Lanzarote, I was in Tudor England, Sydney, the United States, the Congo and Zaire, as well as Uganda.

I'm still reviewing the books I read on holiday in Lanzarote, and my (unintended) pattern seems to have been one 'secular' and then two Christian books. So book number four was The Last King of Scotland.

I'd seen the film a few years ago - it may even be in my dvd collection - but had forgotten the story altogether. The book was a charity shop buy for £1, so I snapped it up and I was instantly transported to Uganda, during the brutal reign of Idi Amin. Once again, the book was better than the film, but also more horrific.

The plot is that a young Scottish doctor is serving in Uganda, and having coincidentally treated Idi Amin after an accident, he is appointed his personal physician. Nicholas Garrigan is setting out his memoirs, trying to tell his own story, to justify his decisions and choices in the midst of chaos during the devastating dictatorship of Amin.

Life in Africa is wonderfully observed, with the contrasts between the life of Idi Amin and that of the ordinary people, caught up in 'civil' wars and coups. There are moments of humour, as well as moments of darkness and evil.

All in all, it's a gripping story on the inside of life in Uganda at the height of Idi Amin's powers. The moral anguish is clear, as Garrigan struggles with leaving or staying, being simultaneously attracted and repelled by Idi Amin.

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