The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget by Andrew Rice

In Duncan's old town feelings are mixed about his pursuit of justice, given how many informers remain who had, so many years before, sold their neighbors out to Amin's people.

The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Length: 384 pages
Author: Andrew Rice
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2009-05
"In Uganda, all history is political, and so are the secrets." -- Andrew Rice, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget

It is no easy task for outsiders to comprehend the depraved evil that fell upon the West African nation of Uganda after General Idi Amin came to power. His 1971 coup overthrew the civilian government that had taken over from the British colonial authorities in 1962, and quickly put an end to the country's brief swell of optimistic independence. In the eight dark years that followed before Amin was driven out of power (he spent the rest of his life in comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia), hundreds of thousands died and an entire generation was stamped with terror.

This task is made no easier by the Western media's proclivity towards covering African affairs either not at all or in highly sensationalized terms (it's hard sometimes to tell which is better). So it was with news about Amin, who was initially treated by the West as a correctly fawning strong man who would put an end to the leftward tilt of the country's intelligentsia, who still harbored strange (to the British, at least) reservations about their colonial past.

When it became clear that Amin was not only a classic dictator, terrifying the population into obedience with informants and frequent assassinations, but a bona fide psychopath, Western media outlets played up the more macabre aspects of his rule. British newspapers were rife with stories of Amin's depravities, which included his supposed habit of not just killing but eating his enemies. Very possibly, many of these stories were just fables concocted out of chaos and fear, and swallowed by a resentful public all too ready to believe any horror story out of one of their former colonies, particularly one that proved (to them) that the Africans couldn't handle their own affairs.

In his studious and straightforward new book on the aftermath of Amin's reign of terror, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget, journalist Andrew Rice makes a point of saying that the more Sweeney Todd-like tales about Amin were most likely not true. But his purpose in saying that is not to discount the scars that this madman left on his country, it is instead the journalist's drive to uncover the truth at any cost, even if that does mean dispelling some long-accepted notions. Rice writes that "Africa the place is forever obscured by the shadow of Africa the notion." It is this mythical, frequently racist, "notion" of Africa that he helps to dispel by relating one horrifying but undeniably true story about what Amin's rule did to one Ugandan family.

At its heart, Rice's book is a mystery, with the journalist tracking the story of Duncan Laki, a Ugandan man trying to discover what happened to his father Eliphaz. An official with strong ties to the government that had run Uganda since independence, Eliphaz disappeared in 1972 when Duncan was only nine. Although his body was never located, and Duncan had harbored dreams of Eliphaz cropping up alive some day, most people assumed that Eliphaz had been murdered, like so many thousands of others, by the thugs of a paranoid and barbarous Amin.

By the time Rice catches up to Eliphaz's son, it's 2001 and Duncan is living comfortably with his family in New Jersey, though still frequently returning to Uganda. Duncan is determined to dig up the truth, hiring private investigators and even paying the costs of the police assigned to the case. What Rice initially finds is that that the men who assisted in Eliphaz's kidnapping all those years before were hiding in plain sight, just like the stacks of bleached skulls and poorly-buried corpses of Amin's victims that kept stubbornly showing up years after the General was gone. The evidence was everywhere but still ephemeral, will-o'-the-wisps like the post-disappearance sightings of Eliphaz's prized Volkswagon (Duncan has kept the spare key to the car all these years as a totem of his father), which provide some of the first clues to what happened back in 1972.

As in so many fictional murder cases, it becomes clear that bringing Eliphaz's killers to trial was not really a matter of evidence and motive, but of prosecutorial backbone and a will to see justice done, no matter how many ghosts it uncovers. In Duncan's old town, feelings are definitely mixed about his pursuit of justice, given how many informers remain who had, so many years before, sold their neighbors out to Amin's people. The violence from that time was so widespread -- government officials, religious leaders, entire families butchered for little to no reason -- that nearly anybody of note who was still alive after Amin was run out of the country in 1979 was suspected as a collaborator. To keep the peace, Uganda had, in theory, mostly pursued a Rwanda-like reconciliation policy towards criminals from that era. In practical matters, this appears to mean that a lot of quite guilty people simply went free.

Rice spent many years living in Uganda, and his ease with the society is particularly telling in his prose. The historical accounts he includes here are well-informed and unencumbered by the travelogue gloss that afflicts the work of many writers new to the continent. He avoids the tabloid exaggerations that most Westerners writing about Amin lean toward (the provable facts are horrible enough) and also seems quite at home describing each of the major characters here, treating them with neither naïve standoffishness or judgmental snark (two frequent hallmarks of the Western writer set loose in Africa). His writing is cool and hard with the occasional jabbing note of outrage.

After taking detours from the Eliphaz case to paint in vivid portraits of Uganda's colorful, frequently painful history -- particularly the fractious tribal affiliations which the British used to divide and conquer all these different peoples who never considered themselves one country before the Europeans came -- Rice notes somewhat despondently that "no one in Uganda took responsibility for Amin's crimes". When he suggests that in the end, instead of choosing reconciliation or rage the country's response seems to be instead sheer apathy, it's as though one can see those piles of bleached skulls being slowly covered up by the soil, waiting patiently for a justice that might never come.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.