Book Review: Snakepit by Moses Isegawa

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.

Author Isegawa, Moses, 1963-
Title Snakepit / Moses Isegawa.
Publication Info. New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2004.
Edition 1st ed.