The Last King of Scotland

by Giles Foden

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292

Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland, published in 1998 to high praise from critics, is a novel encompassing both historical fact and fiction. In the novel, Scotsman Nicholas Garrigan tells the tale of how he came to be Idi Amin’s personal physician and of his subsequent adventures. One of the novel’s major concerns is Garrigan’s relationship with Amin, a brutal dictator, and why Garrigan is so fascinated by the leader that he does not leave, even when faced with the certain knowledge of Amin’s atrocities.

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Garrigan is a fictional character who participates in historical events and interacts with real people, including Amin, the brutal president of Uganda between 1971 and 1979. Amin has been accused of cannibalism and of issuing orders that resulted in the brutal deaths of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen. Some historians believe that Amin’s erratic and violent behavior stemmed from an acute case of syphilis, but others (including the fictional Garrigan), refute this.

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Using his twenty years in Africa and his background as a journalist, Foden researched the events surrounding Amin’s rise to power and downfall, interviewing many of those who watched and participated in the Ugandan ruler’s eight-year reign. Foden makes the book feel like the memoir of an actual person by inserting fictional newspaper articles, journal entries, and authentic events.

During a 1998 interview with the online magazine Boldtype, Foden mentioned that he used conversations with Bob Astles, widely perceived to have been Amin’s closest advisor, to construct Garrigan’s character. As a British soldier who worked his way into Amin’s favor, Astles was much more “proactive than Garrigan,” according to Foden, but paid the price by spending ten years in a Ugandan jail after Amin’s fall.

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