The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget

Murder and Memory in Uganda

Andrew Rice


One of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2009

The people of Uganda have long struggled to bury the worst of their history, but after the violent reign of Idi Amin, reminders were never far from view. In 2000, lawyer Duncan Laki came across a clue to his father's 1972 disappearance, and the ensuing search ultimately led him to a shallow grave -- and then to three old soldiers, including Amin's military chief of staff. Laki's discovery resulted in a trial that, in the end, offered all Ugandans the reckoning they had long been denied. A detective story, a tale of fathers and sons, and a political history, this is above all an illumination of the wounded societies of modern Africa and an exploration of how -- and whether -- the past can ever be lain to rest.


Read an Excerpt


Eliphaz Laki wasn’t coming home. Duncan knew it. Everybody knew it. But hope was an obstinate emotion. It dug into Duncan like a tick, feeding off the doubts his rational mind couldn’t quite extinguish. There were rumors, thirdhand tales told in hushed voices: His father was in hiding, in exile. He’d been sighted in Tanzania. A rebel army was forming there, across the river to the south. The stories didn’t make sense to Duncan, though. He knew his father loved his family; he would have found a way to send word. Duncan heard other, darker, whispers,



Praise for The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget

“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 stunning book . . . In the idiosyncracies of Ugandan history and in the material he gathers from his sources, Rice finds -- without forcing it -- a universally appealing story about living through, and after, violence.”
—Jina Moore, The Christian Science Monitor

“Insightful . . . Outstanding reporting . . . Rice's by-the-facts approach wields tremendous power. . . . A valuable contribution to the literature of memory and trauma.”
The New York Observer

“Compelling . . . much larger than a family tragedy. Through the experiences of the Lakis under the murderous dictatorship of Idi Amin, Rice takes on the age-old dilemmas of hatred, divisiveness, revenge, reconciliation, and the corruption of power .”
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 
“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

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Andrew Rice

  • 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.

  • Andrew Rice





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    The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget

    Murder and Memory in Uganda

    Andrew Rice