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Snakepit (1999)

por Moses Isegawa

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1263166,849 (3.08)6
From the author ofAbyssinian Chronicles(“one of the most impressive works of fiction to have ever come out of Africa”—Kirkus Reviews), a powerful new novel set in Uganda in the 1970s—a dark picaresque that brilliantly depicts the life and death of a nation run by men gorged on power and paranoia. Bat Katanga is a Ugandan just returned to his homeland after two years in Britain. While he completed a postgraduate degree at Cambridge, he watched from afar as “flag independence [gave] way to economic independence” in Uganda, his chances to make a fortune there increasing with each “reform” imposed by Idi Amin. Now, when Bat lands a job as Bureaucrat Two in the Ministry of Power and Communications, he feels himself entering the top echelons of government, his sense of honor and honesty firmly intact: “Everything seemed to have been building to this moment, his triumphant entry into the bastions of power.” But when he is threatened into taking a bribe from a Saudi prince, he unwittingly begins a journey—both psychological and physical—into the darkest and most dangerous precincts of the madness that was Amin’s Uganda. As Bat’s life begins to unravel, we see the men and women whose lives intersect his: General Bazooka, his superior at the ministry—“a creature of people’s fears and prejudices”—a man slowly losing Amin’s approval, and with it any sense of safety or sanity; Victoria, who bears both Bat’s child and a deadly grudge against him; Bat’s family and friends, coping with the advantages and disadvantages of connection to someone in high places; Bat’s wife, Babit, who pays the ultimate price for his mistakes; Robert Ashes, the mercenary Englishman who insinuates himself into Amin’s trust—and who will be the only one left standing after Amin’s downfall. Snakepitis an extraordinarily revealing, deeply humanizing exploration of the experience of virulent corruption. It is a fiercely compelling novel.… (mais)
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This is a wonderful book set in Uganda in the 1970's. Fortunately, it doesn't read at all like a historical fiction--thankfully all the routine events covered by the news media are put aside until the end for the most part. This novel features an only partially like-able character, Bat Katanga, who finds himself in a land of opportunity for highly educated managers as the corrupt, ex-guerrillas who have taken over the country need bureaucrats and managers to run the operations of the country. The book follows the protagonist through his journey to become rich or die trying, where he surprisingly finds more love and pain than money. The book does not spend a lot of time on day to day peasant culture, but rather deals with the culture of government in a post-colonial corrupt regime.

The book carries on at a nice pace with a mostly well-thought out cast of characters, and the changes in perspective read well. At times, the writing is a bit disjointed vis a vis the facts, as if there were one or two sentences missing with key events, or the author expected the reader would assume something that's not clear. Finally, the author wraps up the book in the last 30 pages at a much faster pace, almost as if the publisher said, 'hurry up, let's get this done.' It was a shame to suddenly go to the narrator's voice and hear about the fates of many of the characters in an almost epilogue-style when the book was still going on. ( )
  shawnd | Apr 26, 2009 |
Set in the 1970's during the brutal regime of Idi Amin, Snakepit (2004) by Moses Isegawa is my Around the World for a Good Book selection for Uganda. The novel tells the story of Bat, a young man returning to Uganda after getting an education at Cambridge University. He figures that a government job in this lawless, emerging nation will be a great way to get rich quick. While you can't say that the ethically-challenged Bat is naive, he is certainly unprepared for the way things in work in Uganda and over the course of the novel ends up facing a great deal of suffering at the hands of his new enemies.

The landscape of Ugandan politics and military rule include General Bazooka, Bat's superior who has fallen out of favor with Amin. In between orgies of sex and drugs, Bazooka tries to regain his position through intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and murder of, well, just about anyone. While Bazooka has it out for Bat from the beginning, his main rival is the Englishman Robert Ashes who has won Amin's affections. Hard to believe it but Ashes is even more brutal in his methods, making Uganda his post-colonial playground. All through the story there are gun battles on the street as various military and para-military forces abuse the citizenry and battle with one another.

This is a really unsettling book to read. Page after page details characters stating in vulgar terms what they wish to do to their rivals and then doing it: torture, rape, murder, you name it. Reading each page is like having someone rub your skin with a piece of sandpaper until it is raw and oozing, and turning the page is like asking them to pour lemon juice on it. The writing style is a bit disjointed and uneven, but I guess overall it gives a sense of the rough and wild times Uganda in the 1970's. ( )
  Othemts | Dec 22, 2008 |
Story of greed, power, murder and paranoia in Idi Amin's Uganda. The book follows a cavalcade of characters as they reach for power, love or money in the new "snakepit" that is Uganda, and many are met with disastrous results. The main character is Bat, a Ugandan educated in at Cambridge, who returns to take a job under the constantly paranoid General Bazooka. Bazooka hires a former lover, Victoria, to spy on the well educated Bat. What ensues is a story of deception, lust, suspicion and retaliation in the terror filled world of 1970s Uganda. Some scenes not for the faint at heart.

I enjoyed the book a lot. The only thing that kept me from giving the book 4 out of five was the fact the book followed so many characters, that some lacked details and depth that would have made the book even more intriguing (i.e. Victoria). Otherwise, it was a very insightful story about the life during some of the most torturous times in history. ( )
  getupkid10 | Mar 27, 2008 |
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Bat Katanga had zijn eerste en enige sollicitatiegesprek in een legerhelikopter, de zwaarbewapende Mirage Avenger van generaal Samson Bazooka Ondogar.
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From the author ofAbyssinian Chronicles(“one of the most impressive works of fiction to have ever come out of Africa”—Kirkus Reviews), a powerful new novel set in Uganda in the 1970s—a dark picaresque that brilliantly depicts the life and death of a nation run by men gorged on power and paranoia. Bat Katanga is a Ugandan just returned to his homeland after two years in Britain. While he completed a postgraduate degree at Cambridge, he watched from afar as “flag independence [gave] way to economic independence” in Uganda, his chances to make a fortune there increasing with each “reform” imposed by Idi Amin. Now, when Bat lands a job as Bureaucrat Two in the Ministry of Power and Communications, he feels himself entering the top echelons of government, his sense of honor and honesty firmly intact: “Everything seemed to have been building to this moment, his triumphant entry into the bastions of power.” But when he is threatened into taking a bribe from a Saudi prince, he unwittingly begins a journey—both psychological and physical—into the darkest and most dangerous precincts of the madness that was Amin’s Uganda. As Bat’s life begins to unravel, we see the men and women whose lives intersect his: General Bazooka, his superior at the ministry—“a creature of people’s fears and prejudices”—a man slowly losing Amin’s approval, and with it any sense of safety or sanity; Victoria, who bears both Bat’s child and a deadly grudge against him; Bat’s family and friends, coping with the advantages and disadvantages of connection to someone in high places; Bat’s wife, Babit, who pays the ultimate price for his mistakes; Robert Ashes, the mercenary Englishman who insinuates himself into Amin’s trust—and who will be the only one left standing after Amin’s downfall. Snakepitis an extraordinarily revealing, deeply humanizing exploration of the experience of virulent corruption. It is a fiercely compelling novel.

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