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The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda [Hardcover]

Andrew Rice
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 26 2009

From a new star of American journalism, a riveting murder mystery that reveals the forces roiling today’s Africa

From Rwanda to Sierra Leone, African countries recovering from tyranny and war are facing an impossible dilemma: to overlook past atrocities for the sake of peace or to seek catharsis through tribunals and truth commissions. Uganda chose the path of forgetting: after Idi Amin’s reign was overthrown, the new government opted for amnesty for his henchmen rather than prolonged conflict.

Ugandans tried to bury their history, but reminders of the truth were never far from view. A stray clue to the 1972 disappearance of Eliphaz Laki led his son to a shallow grave—and then to three executioners, among them Amin’s chief of staff. Laki’s discovery resulted in a trial that gave voice to a nation’s past: as lawyers argued, tribes clashed, and Laki pressed for justice, the trial offered Ugandans a promise of the reckoning they had been so long denied.

For four years, Andrew Rice followed the trial, crossing Uganda to investigate Amin’s legacy and the limits of reconciliation. At once a mystery, a historical accounting, and a portrait of modern Africa, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget is above all an exploration of how—and whether—the past can be laid to rest.

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“At its core, The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget is a keenly reported private detective story and police procedural about a son’s search for justice many years after his father’s betrayal and disappearance at the hands of Idi Amin’s military henchmen. At the same time, Andrew Rice’s book is an ably presented drama about the workings of a Ugandan courthouse. It is also an efficient primer on Uganda’s tumultuous history and a political précis of a succession of regimes, culminating with that of the current president, the increasingly authoritarian Yoweri Museveni. And on the broadest level, it is a vivid prism for examining some of the largest themes in Africa’s history.… A thoughtful meditation on the nature of memory, on forgiveness and reconciliation, told with a combination of attentiveness to historical background and genuine care for the lives of real people, The Teeth May Smile enriches the small world of serious Africa books for nonspecialists.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A provocative story of war, death, and the quest for justice in the wake of Idi Amin’s ruinous reign in Uganda... Reconciliation is an increasingly important process in nations once torn by fratricide. Rice’s important book serves as an urgent case study, complete with a surprising outcome."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Treating the Lakis’ story as a microcosm of Uganda’s own, the author weaves together the family’s search for truth and justice with Uganda’s history. From its intimate portrait of Eliphaz’s grieving family to the wide-angle perspectives of the tumultuous post-independence years as Ugandans struggled to knit together a nation from the ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse peoples within their colonial borders, The Teeth May Smile recasts a familiar history in an entirely new light."
Publishers Weekly

“A deeply moving book, telling a whole nation’s story through one man’s struggle for justice.”
—Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland
“Andrew Rice has done something remarkable: he has written a passionate, sophisticated, elegant book about modern African history. Even more extraordinary, he has used Uganda to explore fundamental truths about memory and justice, and thus turned an African story into a universal one.”
—Peter Beinart, author of The Good Fight 
“Few journalists succeed in peering as deeply into a nation’s soul as Andrew Rice has done with this remarkable exploration of memory, war and love in Uganda. This is more than a book about Africa, it is a book that holds up a mirror to the human soul.”
—Matthew Green, author of The Wizard of the Nile
“Tyrant, killer, buffoon: Idi Amin was unforgettable. But his victims have largely been forgotten. Andrew Rice rescues one man’s memory, gives him a face and a voice and lets him speak for a multitude of the dead. This is reporting at its best—as gripping as any murder mystery, but far more important, because every painful word is true.”
—Robert Guest, former Africa editor of The Economist and author of The Shackled Continent

About the Author

Andrew Rice has written about Africa for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The Economist, among other publications. His article "The Book of Wilson," published in The Paris Review, received a Pushcart Prize. He spent several years in Uganda as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A memory of Uganda Feb. 12 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this book in preparation for a trip to Uganda. I was interested in local history. This is a very personal story, well written. It introduced me to the local history and some geography
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Africa and Yet Too Close to Home June 2 2009
By James G. Workman - Published on
I picked up this book assuming it an escapist murder mystery set half a world away, but the story haunts a failed memory that resides unnervingly close to home.

A beautiful country with decent people is emerging from a seven-year-fog during which its rulers claimed a mandate from God, wiretapped neighbors, tortured perceived enemies, suspended civil liberties, and invaded a non-threatening state. Later, reports sink in of how civilians and soldiers were killed on our behalf, but for reasons that remain obscure to this day. Some demand deposed leaders face justice. Others say accountability endangers the foundation of national security. Hmmm...Stop if this sounds familiar.

The Teeth May Smile is set in Uganda's past, a place and time few of us knew, much less forgot. It is palpably Africa, with its Maribou Storks perched on courthouses. Yet within that era and place Rice reconstructs an all-too-familiar state of fear and anxiety, revealing how easy and tempting it is for someone to let our voice go silent, point our finger at others, shrug at wrongdoing, or nod when instructed by opinion leaders that "you know, sometimes it's better to just keep walking."

Duncan Laki refused to keep walking. The story's protagonist stood fast in his quest for the truth and justice, however painful or destabilizing those words might prove. And Mr. Rice had the savvy journalistic instincts to stand behind him - never judging, but incessantly taking notes -- over seven years, from courtroom to banana farm to graveside.

It would be comforting to describe Rice as merely "a superb Africa-based foreign correspondent," or label this book as "casting a fascinating light on Uganda." He is, and it does. But both go deeper. Rice serves a gripping narrative nonfiction story that manages effortlessly to strip away the superficial gauze of tribe, race, party, nationality, and geography.

The Teeth May Smile holds a mirror up to the fragility of human nature, leaving the quiet courage of men like Laki, both son and father, to remind us where we might have buried our moral compass during our own national period of uncertainty, and what layers we might have to dig through to one day get it back.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering the slaughter in Uganda Nov. 19 2009
By John Gibbs - Published on
Uganda featured prominently in the international news in the 1970s, during Idi Amin's reign of terror. Instability and civil war continued in the 1980s, and then for the ensuing 20 years rebels remained active in the north of the country. The story of one man's quest to bring the murderers of his father to justice is told in this book.

A Commission of Inquiry Into Violations of Human Rights was set up to create a record of past atrocities and recommend prosecutions, but the government ran out of enthusiasm before the Commission's task was complete, and the Commission's findings simply sit on shelves gathering dust. However, through his own investigations Duncan Laki discovered the truth behind the disappearance of his father Eliphaz Laki, and he attempted to bring to justice Idi Amin's henchmen who had murdered him.

The book provides an extremely interesting and readable account of Eliphaz Laki's activities, Duncan's investigations, and the trial. Should people who have committed atrocities in the past be brought to justice, or should sleeping dogs be allowed to lie? Most Ugandans would prefer to forgive and move on, but violent offenders seem to take advantage of that attitude to commit atrocities with impunity.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great journalism Jan. 5 2011
By James G. Dangelo - Published on
i'm living in uganda for six months. have sought long and hard to understand the recent history. no other book comes close. great writing. great story. great research.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong Story Oct. 7 2010
By Nils Jakob Lyseng - Published on
Verified Purchase
I have read many books about Uganda, even liven for a long while in Kampala. Therefore now that I'm back in Europe- I read books about the place in the world I miss the most. That's the main reason why I bought it. I didn't know the whole story of the first attempt of getting rid of Amin in 1972. But I knew some parts of it and this book gave a reasonable adjustment of the already well known history. It also was a personal attempt to portray how the changes has given the society that exist in Uganda today. Especially the NRM government controlled base and how the tribes from the east have more power than in the Northern had while dictator Amin was ruling. So I knew a lot about it already and enjoyed reading it through this angle. Get it personal from families involved in the transitions between, Obote, Amin and Museveni. Giving the touch of how Tanzania was involved too, give a more understanding of why Amin attracted them and not only was on a stupid crusade as many European writers have told before hand. This book isn't giving the same story as you read in the Ugandan New Vision History packs or Daily Monitor Newspaper. But its a great experience and gives the reader for some new information about what happen in Mbarara at the first attempt to get Amin away from power and why it failed.

So sit down with some ginger tea and lean back, read and enjoy the moment even if it's a little painful to read about others misfortunes, but this is the world we live in. Please don't forget those who made it as we live today. That's maybe the main purpose of the writer. I don't know but it could been so.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book June 26 2010
By aimee - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was wonderful. The author was able to weave a personal story through out the history of this war torn country. It is well written, informative and captivating. It is also a great history lesson of Uganda.
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