Monday, February 19, 2007

An Unexpected Advocate for Fiction

Giles Foden, who wrote the novel on which the film The Last King of Scotland was based, went to Uganda for the African premiere of the film and filed a fascinating account of his trip that is now at As a good novelist can, Foden accounts for a broad spectrum of perspectives surrounding the event; but, from my point of view, all of that breadth faded into the background as the chronology of events came to the end of the screening of the film and attention turned to the current President of Uganda:

After the film, President Museveni gave his reaction to the film, revealing it was the first time he had been in a cinema for 47 years.

"When you have a lot of drama in your own life, you don't need to seek it in a movie," he explained. He thanked the film-makers for bringing Ugandan history alive, despite the necessary fictionalisation.

Then, to my extreme embarassment, he summoned me on stage for an off-the-cuff critique of my novel. "I studied English literature but I forget what type of fiction this is!"

"Historical novel," I ventured.

"That's it! We need more historical fiction about Uganda, on film and in books, if we are to understand our history properly."

There is nothing unique about this insight, given that I recently cited J. M. Coetzee's recognition of it in his review of The Castle in the Forest, a novel that certainly deserves to be examined in the same light as The Last King of Scotland. What is important, however, is that this particular statement of the insight came from a head of state who seems to now appreciate his past study of English literature. Furthermore, that last sentence (inadvertently, I am almost sure) casts an unfriendly light on our own President, who would rather engage confabulation in the interest of promoting an ideology than penetrate the depths of fiction in the interest of a better understanding of history! On the other hand in the interest of fairness it may just be that President Museveni is better at coming up with the mot juste than President Bush is!

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