Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
Idi Amin is the president of Uganda, having seized power from President Apollo Obote in early 1971. He is an actual historical character, but Foden has given him fictional qualities in the novel.
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Garrigan treats Amin for an injury sustained in an automobile accident, and the president is so impressed that he demands that Garrigan be his personal physician in the capital city of Kampala. At first, Amin has little use for Garrigan and his skills, but soon he calls Garrigan in for a number of minor medical concerns. When Amin is in severe gastric pain, he calls for Garrigan, who proceeds to burp him “like with babies.” From this point, a bond develops between the two men.
Amin suffers from delusions of grandeur, believing that everything he says and thinks is of monumental importance; his full title is President for Life Field Marshall Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, King of the Scots and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. He sends telegrams of advice to world leaders and makes statements that sound both crazy and frightening—especially when they come from a ruler with absolute power. Foden gives an immediate sense of Amin’s personality at the book’s start as he describes some strange moments at a state dinner. During a monologue about wigs, Amin states, “I do not want Ugandans to wear the hair of dead imperialists or of Africans killed by imperialists.” Amin later launches into an even more uncomfortable topic, noting, “I have eaten human meat. It is very salty.”
Amin’s rule eventually deteriorates. Near the story’s end, most nations have placed an embargo on trade with Uganda, and the country is suffering from extreme poverty and disease. When Tanzanian troops enter the capital city, Garrigan finds Amin hiding in the basement headquarters of his secret jail and torture facilities, begging for help to escape. Garrigan hears from Amin for the last time when Amin calls him from Saudi Arabia, where he has found refuge, asking whether he should help the United States negotiate a deal with Iran for the release of American hostages.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349
Nicholas Garrigan is the novel’s narrator, a young Scottish physician who goes to Uganda working for the Ministry of Health through the British Overseas Development Agency. After serving at a clinic in a small provincial town for nearly two years, Garrigan is called to treat the country’s leader, Idi Amin, who has suffered a sprained wrist in an automobile accident. Amin is so impressed by Garrigan that he demands that the doctor move to Kampala to become his personal physician.
Garrigan finds Amin both charming and repugnant. The major struggle in the novel is within Garrigan, between the part of him that is aware of Amin’s brutality and the part of him that is “more fascinated than frightened.” He must either leave Uganda or take action against the atrocities. Even before Garrigan meets Amin on the road outside Mbarara, he is curious about the man. After he hears Amin refer to himself as “the last rightful King of Scotland,” Garrigan begins to feel a special connection with the ruler, as if “it had some special relevance for me. As if I were his subject.”
Garrigan develops a particular affection for the leader, despite Amin’s reputation for ruthless murders and bizarre statements and behaviors. Garrigan is not a typical hero; in fact, he bears many of the qualities of an antihero. He has little courage and spends much time worrying about his own personal safety. He fails at many of his relationships, and both of his love interests eventually reject him. Ties to his family and friends back in Scotland are almost nonexistent, and when the going gets tough, he usually runs away. For example, he leaves for Kampala and Amin once the rural clinic in Mbarara falls on hard times. When Amin’s brutality and insanity become obvious, Garrigan resolves to “build a castle” within himself. After arriving in England, having escaped Uganda and possible prosecution for his actions as part of Amin’s staff, Garrigan seeks refuge on an isolated Scottish island where he writes his memoirs and lives the remainder of his life.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1731
Kay Amin, another character based on a real person, is Idi Amin’s second wife. (He was a polygamist who ultimately had five wives.) She is the daughter of a clergyman and was once a university student. She becomes Peter Mbalu-Mukasa’s lover. When Kay becomes pregnant, Peter asks Garrigan to help him perform an abortion, but he refuses, afraid of what Amin might do. The next week, Garrigan hears from colleagues that Peter failed to do the abortion properly and that Kay bled to death. Peter commits suicide the next day with an overdose of sleeping pills. Despite rumors to the contrary, Garrigan insists that Amin had nothing to do with Kay’s death or Peter’s suicide; yet when Garrigan sees Kay’s body at the morgue, it has been dismembered.
See Boniface Malumba
See Nicholas Garrigan
George Garrigan is Nicholas Garrigan’s father. He is a Presbyterian minister and a rather solemn man. When Garrigan left for Uganda, his father was displeased that his son was not planning to stay in Scotland and set up a general medical practice, further straining the already tense relationship between the two men. George Garrigan dies during Nicholas’s second year in Uganda, but his son decides not to fly to Scotland for the funeral.
Jeanie Garrigan is Nicholas Garrigan’s mother. Garrigan claims that he has inherited his mother’s capacity for hard work and “worry.” According to her son, she dies from “pure grief” soon after the death of her husband. He does not leave Uganda to attend her funeral in Scotland.
Moira Garrigan is Nicholas Garrigan’s sister. While he is serving as Amin’s physician, she asks her brother, “How did you let yourself get so close to such a man?” Garrigan mails to Moira the tapes and journals he has made of his experiences, and she is able to send them on to the cottage where Garrigan writes his memoirs.
Ed Howarth is the public relations manager Stone assigns to Garrigan upon his return to London. Howarth arranges a few press conferences for Garrigan and coaches him on what he should say.
Colonel Armstrong Kuchasa
Colonel Kuchasa is an officer with the Tanzanian forces that move on Kampala at the end of the book. He rescues Garrigan from a battle in Mbarara and lets him stay in an armored personnel vehicle during their march from Mbarara to Kampala.
Major Mabuse was simply a taxi driver before Amin’s coup, but in Amin’s regime he is a feared military leader. He is reported to have been involved in killing two young American tourists who got in his way.
Garrigan meets Boniface Malumba, a young Ugandan student of food science from Mbarara, while on the bus from Kampala to Mbarara. Malumba is friendly and gives Garrigan advice about living in Uganda. He also invites Garrigan to his family’s house for lunch, where Garrigan meets the entire family and spends a pleasant afternoon. Malumba is killed in the fighting that breaks out between pro-Obote forces and Amin’s army.
Gugu is Boniface Malumba’s fun-loving younger brother. He is the only member of his family to survive the fighting between pro-Obote forces and Amin’s army that spreads to Mbarara. Sara and Garrigan take him in at the clinic after the attack, but he is so traumatized that he will not speak. A distant relative arrives one day to take him away. The next time Garrigan sees Gugu, he is one of Amin’s murderers in the Mbarara region. Gugu dies during a battle with the Tanzanian forces.
Peter Mbalu-Mukasa is one of the African doctors at Mulago Hospital and a colleague of Garrigan’s. Mbalu-Mukasa becomes Kay Amin’s lover and one night begs Garrigan to help him perform an abortion on her. Garrigan is too frightened that Amin will discover his role in their illicit affair and refuses to help. Garrigan later hears from his colleagues that Kay has bled to death and that Mbalu- Mukasa has committed suicide, but there are rumors that Amin had them both murdered.
Doctor Alan Merrit
Garrigan works for Alan Merrit at the Mbarara clinic. Merrit is about fifty years old and has what Garrigan calls “a bizarre white streak down the middle of his brown hair.” He is married to Joyce Merrit, and they have lived and worked in Uganda for more than twenty years. Joyce calls him by his nickname, Spiny. Merrit is displeased when Garrigan decides to leave Mbarara and become Amin’s physician. The Merrits are eventually expelled from Uganda along with other British citizens.
Joyce Merrit is Alan Merrit’s wife. She is very hospitable to Garrigan when he shows up at the clinic, providing him with meals and a place to stay until he is settled in his own bungalow.
Idi Amin seizes power from Ugandan President Obote on the day Garrigan arrives in Uganda. Apollo Obote was the actual president of Uganda until 1971, when Amin overthrew this government.
Marina Perkins is the wife of the British ambassador to Uganda. According to Garrigan, Marina is a moderately attractive woman, although he describes her mouth as being like “a little fig.” She accompanies Garrigan on a boat trip and picnic, where Garrigan makes an unsuccessful attempt to seduce her. She becomes angry and doesn’t want to have anything to do with Garrigan after this incident. Later, Garrigan sees her sitting with Freddy Swanepoel’s hand on her knee. She is eventually expelled from Uganda, along with her husband and other British officials.
Ambassador Robert Perkins
Ambassador Perkins is the British ambassador to Uganda and is married to Marina Perkins. Garrigan is not impressed with the overweight ambassador and refers to him as a “sponge” and the “standard Foreign Office issue: plastered-down hair, a large body shifting in its bristly suit.”
Ivor Seabrook is an “old Englishman” and physician working at the Mbarara clinic. When Garrigan first meets Seabrook, he notices that he has the look of a “long-term tropical alcoholic.”
See Doctor Alan Merrit
Nigel Stone works at the British Embassy in Kampala and asks Garrigan to “keep a weather eye out for anything untoward” at the Mbarara clinic. When Garrigan returns to Kampala as Amin’s doctor, Stone asks him to give Amin a drug to moderate his behavior. A while later, after the full extent of Amin’s massacres is apparent, Stone asks Garrigan to kill Amin and promises him that the British government will put a large amount of money in his account and “look after” him.
Stone is also the official who arranges to have Garrigan freed from a Kenyan jail on charges of conspiring with Amin, and he meets Garrigan at the airport when he returns to London. Stone also forces Garrigan to sign a statement swearing that all of his actions in Uganda were done of his own accord, not at the direction of the British government.
Freddy Swanepoel is a South African pilot based in Nairobi who works for Rafiki Aviation. He describes his job as transporting “things for the Kenyan and Ugandan governments. And other bits and pieces.” Garrigan first meets him at the hotel bar when he arrives and notes that everything about Swanepoel is “chunky and muscular, even his face.”
Later, Garrigan sees Swanepoel and Marina Perkins having a tryst at a restaurant. Swanepoel dies when Garrigan unknowingly delivers a package containing a bomb from Amin to Swanepoel, just as Swanepoel is about to take off from Entebbe. The plane explodes and both Swanepoel and his passenger die.
As Idi Amin’s minister of health, Jonas Wasswa appoints Garrigan to his position as Amin’s personal physician. Amin eventually has Wasswa killed.
William Waziri Garrigan becomes good friends with William Waziri, a Ugandan doctor trained in the United States who works at the Mbarara clinic. Waziri speaks to Garrigan about local lore and history while they make their regular trips to the countryside to conduct vaccination clinics. At about the time that fighting between pro-Obote forces and Amin’s army increases near Mbarara, Waziri takes a vacation but never returns. Later, when Garrigan is dragged down into Amin’s secret jail and torture chambers, he sees that Waziri is one of the victims and witnesses his death.
Major Archibald Drummond Weir
Major Weir is a British intelligence officer, originally from Scotland, stationed in Kampala. Garrigan finds him disturbing and frightening. He has built what Stone calls “a magnificent flying machine,” a small, radio-controlled contraption that he flies on the grounds of the British Embassy. Weir returns to London under mysterious circumstances, which leads Garrigan to believe that he was recalled for “being too friendly with Amin”; Stone, however, asserts that Weir was “too talkative.” When Garrigan returns to his island in Scotland, he finds a newspaper article about Weir, stating that he is a “nationalist extremist” and the “most successful bomber in Scottish history.”
Garrigan falls in love with Israeli physician Sara Zach almost as soon as they become acquainted at the Mbarara clinic. She behaves in a very efficient and standoffish manner, and it takes a while before she and Garrigan become lovers. While she is working at the clinic, Garrigan notices that there are a few things about her that don’t quite make sense for a doctor: she takes notes at Amin’s rally in Mbarara; her shortwave radio not only receives but is able to transmit information; and she spends an inordinate amount of time with a local Israeli road-building crew. She brushes off Garrigan’s attempts to find out more about her activities. After their love affair ends suddenly, Sara disappears from the clinic.
Garrigan does not hear from her for years until he receives a phone call at his house in Kam- pala. A hijacked plane is sitting on the runway at Entebbe, and she calls—identifying herself as a colonel in the Israeli armed forces—to ask Garrigan if he will try to convince Amin to free the hostages. Garrigan refuses but realizes then that she was probably a spy for the Israelis while working at the Mbarara clinic.