A Touch of Evil

I do wonder, in fact, how many other people have actually looked into Idi Amin's eye: less, if I may gainsay the poets, a question of the window being open to his debatable soul than of the red cup of the retina, glazed with blood vessels, and the end of the optic nerve like a drop of milk in the center.

Ultimately, his ironic fascination will give way to melodrama: "I am transformed into a suppurating beast, someone with a smell of evil about his person. Yes, I have become him." Foden often comes dangerously close to indulging the romantic exoticism that undoes his hero. I don't say this to score an easy political point against a novel that is genuinely beautiful and disturbing. The elegance and assurance of execution, however, are part of what's disturbing, especially since the political devastation of Central Africa is hardly confined to the rapidly receding past of the 1970s. Indeed, The Last King of Scotlandis one of a cluster of current books on the topic: Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, a novel about the Congo crisis of the 1960s; King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild's account of Belgian savagery in the Congo a hundred years earlier; and Philip Gourevitch's unsparing chronicle of the recent Rwandan genocide, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. Recent events in the Democratic Republic of Congo, liberated only last year from the grotesque kleptocracy of Idi Amin's spiritual cousin Mobuto Sese Seku, suggest that the horror is far from over.

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