Foden, Giles 1967-
FODEN, Giles 1967-
PERSONAL: Born 1967, in Warwickshire, England. Education: Attended Malvern College and Cambridge University.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Alfred A. Knopf, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Media Week (magazine), former journalist; Times Literary Supplement, London, England, assistant editor, 1993–97; Guardian, London, currently deputy literary editor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread First Novel Award, 1998, and Betty Trask Award, and Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, and Somerset Maugham Prize, all 1999, all for The Last King of Scotland.
Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, Michael Joseph (London, England), 2004, published as Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to The Guardian Century, Fourth Estate, 1999, and The Weekenders: Travels in the Heart of Africa, Ebury Press, 2001. Book review editor, Conde Nast Traveller.
The Last King of Scotland, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Ladysmith, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1999, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Zanzibar, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2002.
ADAPTATIONS: The Last King of Scotland and Ladysmith are both being adapted as films.
SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning British novelist Giles Foden grew up in Africa, where his father's job took him to many remote areas. In an interview for Random House's Bold Type Web site, he recalled: "When I came to write, I suppose I was in many ways trying to recreate those vivid experiences on the page, including the frightening ones, like seeing dead bodies or towns on fire, and having our jeep searched at gunpoint by soldiers." Foden's interest in Africa has led him to write both fiction and nonfiction about the continent. The Last King of Scotland, Ladysmith, and Zanzibar combine real-life events with fictional characters, while in Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika (published in England as Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika) Foden recounts the story of a little-known episode that took place in Africa during World War I.
Winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award and Somerset Maugham Award, among other prizes, The Last King of Scotland was hailed as a "stunning debut novel" by Margaret Flanagan in Booklist. The story depicts the strange relationship between Idi Amin, the violent dictator who ruled Uganda during the 1970s, and a doctor from Scotland who is caught up in Amin's regime and becomes the dictator's physician. Strangely enough, the Scottish king of the title refers not to a historical king of Scotland but to Amin himself, who greatly admired the toughness of the Scottish people. Nicholas Garrigan both fears and detests Amin for his wonton cruelty, yet at the same time he is undeniably affected by the charismatic part of the dictator's personality. The more deeply he becomes mired in Amin's inner circle, the more detached from reality Garrigan becomes. His story is typical of many people who lived through the dictator's regime and did their best to carry on normally, even as they were swept up in a tide of horrific events.
A Publishers Weekly writer called The Last King of Scotland "a mesmerizing read" as well as "a forceful account of a surrealistic and especially ugly chapter of modern history." The book functions on many levels, according to David W. Henderson in Library Journal. It is a "richly drawn" story that features an insightful character study of Idi Amin, as well as a powerful statement about human responses to dictatorship. That praise was echoed by Richard Rathbone in History Today, who called The Last King of Scotland "an outstanding, evocative novel rich in description of place and event. It is also a brilliant analysis of the essence of a brutal dictator."
Foden followed The Last King of Scotland with Ladysmith, the story of a small British town in South Africa. Strategically important, in 1899 Ladysmith was caught between two opposing forces in the Boer War and was under siege for some four months. Foden used letters written by a relative of his during the siege as the background for his fictional narrative. The main characters in Ladysmith come of age during this conflict, with several of them narrating their stories in alternating chapters. Characters from real life also appear in the story, including Winston Churchill and Mohandas Gandhi. Pam Johnson, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, called it a "captivating" description of the Boer War and its aftereffects. Booklist contributor Margaret Flanagan judged Ladysmith to be the equal of The Last King of Scotland and a "psychologically and morally challenging" work. Toby Mundy, writing in New Statesman, further stated that Ladysmith is an "even more engrossing" work than The Last King of Scotland, commenting on "its greater and more impressive sweep."
In Zanzibar Foden moves forward in time to 1998, when the terrorist group al-Qaeda unleashed attacks on Tanzania and Kenya. The main character is Nick Karolides, an American marine biologist who is studying the sea life around Zanzibar, hoping to protect it from poachers. Nick becomes romantically involved with Miranda Powers, a security adviser; another main character is Jack Queller, a Central Intelligence Agency operative who inspires mistrust among his colleagues because he respects Muslim culture. Charles Briffa, reviewing the book for World Literature Today, described its theme as one of "tolerance and understanding despite fundamentalist oppression. It is an absorbing narrative that flows from a meticulous journalist with a gift for stimulating descriptions within the confines of a sensual prose that conveys vivid and credible accounts."
With his fourth book, Foden moved into the realm of nonfiction. Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure tells the story of a little-known episode during World War I. Two small mahogany motorboats named Mimi and Toutou were transported 2,800 miles across Africa in order to bring down the German dominance of Lake Tanganyika. The incident later became the inspiration for C.S. Forster's novel The African Queen, which was in turn adapted as a film that has become an acknowledged classic. The British officer commanding this mission was Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, a highly eccentric person who became known as the Navyman God to the local natives. According to Margaret Flanagan in Booklist, Foden's "painstaking attention to historical and descriptive detail vivifies an amazing true story," one that also makes for humorous reading. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, "Foden's engrossing account is not just for military historians or lovers of exotic locales; it should please anyone who loves a good story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African Business, May, 1998, Steve Williams, review of The Last King of Scotland, p. 41; March, 2005, review of Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, p. 64.
Booklist, December 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Last King of Scotland, p. 726; April 15, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Ladysmith, p. 1522; April 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Ladysmith, p. 1452; March 15, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of Mimi and Toutou Go Forth, p. 1261.
Bookseller, July 5, 2002, review of Zanzibar, p. 36.
Financial Times, October 2, 2004, James Urquhart, review of Mimi and Toutou Go Forth, p. 32.
History Today, July, 1998, Richard Rathbone, review of The Last King of Scotland, p. 60.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005, review of Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure, p. 163.
Library Journal, October 15, 1998, David W. Henderson, review of The Last King of Scotland, p. 96; March 15, 2000, David W. Henderson, review of Ladysmith, p. 126; December 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure, p. 92; February 12, 2005, Edwin B. Burgess, review of Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, p. 143.
New Criterion, April, 1999, Brooke Allen, "Illustrations of Inertia and Compromise," p. 60.
New Statesman, September 6, 1999, Toby Mundy, review of Ladysmith, p. 56; September 16, 2002, Matthew Jennings, review of Zanzibar, p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1998, review of The Last King of Scotland, p. 55; February 7, 2000, review of Ladysmith, p. 60; February 21, 2005, review of Mimi and Toutou's Big Adventure, p. 168.
School Library Journal, December, 2000, Pam Johnson, review of Ladysmith, p. 168.
World Literature Today, July-September, 2003, Charles Briffa, review of Zanzibar, p. 96.
Bold Type Online, http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/ (June 15, 2005), interview with Foden.