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The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget

Murder and Memory in Uganda

Andrew Rice


The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget Download image

ISBN10: 0312429738
ISBN13: 9780312429737

Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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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 explores how—and whether—the past can be laid to rest.


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

"Once in a while . . . the experience of much of the continent is crystallized in the story of a single country, and when that story is told with a combination of attentiveness to historical background and genuine care for the lives of real people, the small world of serious Africa books for nonspecialists becomes enriched. With The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda, Andrew Rice has written just such a book . . . At its core, The Teeth May Smile 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 Amin's military henchmen. At the same time, 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 . . . Finally, The Teeth May Smile is a thoughtful meditation on the nature of memory, on forgiveness and reconciliation."—Howard W. French, associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, The New York Times Book Review

"On Sept. 22, 1972, a dusty car carrying three soldiers skidded to a stop outside a county headquarters in western Uganda. They apprehended the county chief, Eliphaz Laki, and told him he was wanted at the local army barracks for questioning. Then they drove him out of town, stopped at a cattle ranch, walked him into the bush, shot him in the back of the neck and left. Nearly three decades later, Eliphaz Laki's son Duncan pushed a shovel into the ground under a short oruyenje bush. The metal met something hard—a badly decomposed clump of human bones. Duncan had found his father. Pushcart Prize-winning journalist Andrew Rice, who lived in Uganda, tells the story of the son's search for his father—and for justice—in the compelling The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget. This book is 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."—Karen Long, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget is an ambitious work of narrative journalism, the story of one man's quest for the truth about the murder of his father, who was killed during the brutal reign of dictator Idi Amin. But Rice's debut may well do for Uganda what Philip Gourevitch did for Rwanda, or Adam Hochschild for colonial Congo: bring an unfamiliar place and its terrifying history to the forefront of the American imagination . . . He offers up first-rate reportage, sustained over the two years he spent living in Uganda. In the idiosyncrasies 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. The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget is a stunning book."—Jina Moore, The Christian Science Monitor

"Some beach bums you know are flipping through the Twilight series, but you've got bigger things on your mind. Save room in your beach tote for Andrew Rice's new book, The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget. Personalizing the Ugandan civil war that erupted after the overthrow of Idi Amin, Rice follows the son of Eliphaz Laki, a tribal chief murdered in 1972, as he tracks down the truth about his father's killers. In other words, it's your kind of lakeside read."—Jonathan Messinger, Time Out New York

"Rice has done an admirable job of pulling his story into the larger context of the African continent's challenges today as it reaches for greater peace, freedom, and stature in the world. Individual stories emerge, sharply delineated. And Rice has a novelist's touch for pacing and drama. Despite the horrific nature of the events this book holds up to scrutiny, it is a compelling, thoughtful read."—Jon Santiago, Charleston City Paper

"Rice's by-the-facts approach wields tremendous power. By recounting the troubled search for the suspects and later the tedious, complicated trial, Rice is able to use the particular story of Eliphaz Laki as a case study of Uganda's relationship with its past . . . By coupling personal and state history, Rice offers an account that is at once intimate and far-reaching. Woven throughout Eliphaz's story is a vigorous and compelling history of Uganda, both colonial and post-. He lays out a clear and pointed case for how British manipulation of the region's ethnic groups laid the foundation for feuds that last to this day. In fact, it was in Uganda that a 19th-century British army captain codified the term 'indirect rule,' which, Rice writes, 'sought to extend Britain's influence by enticing African kings and chieftains to become partners in their own subjugation.' This method was swiftly taken up throughout the continent . . . Rice has made a valuable contribution to the literature of memory and trauma."—Sarah Goldstein, The New York Observer

"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

"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

"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

"The story of Duncan Laki's search for justice is one of Africa. Ethically, his pursuit of the truth is imperfect. Circumstances are rarely black-and-white, and it is not always easy to see a clear path to what is right. In The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda, Andrew Rice—an American journalist and veteran reporter on African affairs—tells this story with a gift for narrative and an eye for detail . . . The reader is left with an enthralling account of a son's quest to uncover the truth about his father's fate and to bring justice to those who killed him."—Travis Lupick, The Georgia Straight (Vancouver)

"From longtime African affairs journalist Rice, a provocative story of war, death and the quest for justice in the wake of Idi Amin's ruinous reign in Uganda . . . As a ruler, having engineered a coup against his left-leaning predecessor and passed muster as a Cold War ally of the Western powers, he was seen as someone who could be reasoned with. Not so. Amin's lieutenants busily eliminated servants of the former administration and others suspected of being disloyal to the regime, which would become internationally infamous for its role in the hijacking of an Israeli airliner. One victim of the bloodletting was a county chief named Eliphaz Laki, who disappeared in 1972. In 1979, Amin's army, a haphazard lot of brigands, disintegrated after an ill-advised invasion of neighboring Tanzania. Amin fled into Saudi Arabian exile, after which many Ugandans took the view that it might be just as well to forget the past. Yet in 1986 a new leader came to power, Yoweri Museveni, and one of his first official acts was to establish a commission of inquiry about the crimes of the Amin regime, telling Ugandans that 'they could begin to mend their nation just by speaking the truth.' Helped by Laki's son, investigators determined that the murderers included Amin's chief of staff, as well as two soldiers, all of whom were brought to trial. Rice observes that, whereas most murder trials in Uganda's legal system took only a week or so to be settled, that of the senior official took more than a year, complicated by both the quality of the evidence and, it seems, a persistent refusal to fully engage the past. 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)

"Journalist Rice . . . spent five years writing this account of a son's efforts to discover the truth about and seek justice for the 1972 murder of his father . . . His son eventually discovered his grave and tracked down his three executioners, who were brought to trial. Rice, who attended the trial, here considers the limits of reconciliation—an important question in today's world. The book reads as easily as mystery fiction, but Rice manages to weave in the complex history and even more serpentine politics of Amin's Uganda. He conducted more than 100 interviews and supports his text with 40 pages of notes."—Joel Neuberg, Library Journal

"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 book recasts a familiar history in an entirely new light."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


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...

About the author

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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