Enduring torture in Obote’s Uganda

“This was on Monday, May 17. My fellow journalist Chuck Powers, our hired driver and I were about to endure a living nightmare. In the next 48 hours we would be whipped, threatened with death and, even worse, with the most horrifying of tortures — in a place where torture and death and sudden disappearance are an everyday affair.”

Robert Rosenthal, May 1982, Philadelphia Inquirer


In 1982, Uganda was ruled by Milton Obote, almost as notorious as his feared predecessor Idi Amin for his terrible record of human rights violations. In May of that year, the regime’s tender mercies were directed towards two American journalists – Powers of the LA Times and Robert Rosenthal of the Philadelphia Inquirer – and their hired driver. Their experience of torture at the hands of Obote’s soldiers in Bombo army barracks outside Kampala was vividly recorded by Rosenthal. His article “Inside a Ugandan Prison, a Nightmare Comes to Life” appeared in the Inquirer on May 23, 1982.

The article is valuable for its portrait of Powers by a colleague. It is available in full at the Byliner.com website.


A daughter’s reminiscences


“My father (Charles Powers) was a highly respected writer–a Pulitzer finalist more than once–and a foreign correspondent for the Los Angles Times for almost two decades. He was a very handsome lout, and cut a romantic figure. A journalist in the Christopher Hitchens mold; I think they even knew one another in the Middle East. Anyway, his first foreign post was in Nairobi.”

Read the rest.


Powers’ daughter Rachel wrote this reminiscence of her father in East Africa. It was published in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ column in the Atlantic in August 2013. Recommended.

Images from the French edition

The French edition – En mémoire de la forêt – made a serious splash when it was finally published by Sonatine in 2011. (Check out the rave ratings on Amazon.fr!) I hope to post separately on Forêt‘s reception in the literary press and in book blogs. For now, some images below. I love both covers, by the way. The one on the right is the original Sonatine cover. The one on the left belongs to the Pocket edition (mass market paperback, I believe.)

There is a little blurb at the bottom by the English thriller writer RJ Ellory, too.



Trailer to promote the French edition (Sonatine, 2011)

Compared to the German, Italian or Polish editions, all of which came out in the late 1990s, the French edition took a while to reach readers. It finally came out in 2011, courtesy of the publishers Sonatine. The translation was done by Clement Baude. Happily, this being the age of YouTube, Sonatine put in an extra bit of effort behind the marketing campaign and produced this short trailer to promote the book. It’s brief but rather effective.

La memoria della foresta – Powers’ novel in Italian

Of all the covers, this one appearing on the Italian edition (Feltrinelli, 1998) strikes me as the most arresting. Although some might see in it an element of schlock-horror, for me this shot cuts to the core topic of the novel in a way that the other editions do not address.

The translation was done by Vincenzo Mantovani, who has translated other works of American literature into Italian, including such writers as Henry James, Richard Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow.

The book can be accessed via Google Books here.