“I have always been interested in the relationship between humans and violence”
Cargo dogs, Giles Foden’s new novel, arrives 12 years after his previous book, and was inevitably eight years long.
“It was Auden, I think, speaking of poems, who said that poems were never finished but rather abandoned,” says Foden. “Some books take two years, others a lot longer. This one, which partly concerns the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s and two wars in the Congo, is a very complex subject, and so… well, I had to dig deep.
It’s a complex subject – but his rigorous research doesn’t weigh down the novel. Instead of, Cargo dogs reads like a thriller. Beginning in 1996, it revolves around Manu, a 19-year-old cowherd who flees the bloody Congo war after his parents were killed in front of his eyes.
Finishing in Uganda, he falls with a motley crew of so-called “cargo dogs” – a bunch of grizzled men from various corners of the world who fly cargo planes. These men care little about conflict or the contents of the cargo they are carrying – be it food, drugs or weapons – and are much more interested in the money it brings them.
Although he is trained to become a transport dog himself, Manu is never really one of them. He wants what every young person wants: peace, love and harmony; a sedentary life – and his quest takes him from Uganda to northern Europe, first to the Netherlands, then to Belgium, where he becomes just another immigrant trying to find his way to better conditions.
“I’ve always been interested in the relationship between humans and violence,” says Foden. “This huge thing happened in Congo, but it seemed to me like it was never really on people’s radar in Europe and the US, so I wanted to bring it to people’s attention.”
A former journalist, the 54-year-old was born in the UK but raised in Malawi, where his father worked as an agricultural economist, and later in Tanzania and Nigeria, before returning to the UK and interning, then to Cambridge.
He publishes his first novel, The Last King of Scotland, in 1998, during the reign of Idi Amin in the 1970s in Uganda. The book was a bestseller, and later adapted into a film starring Forest Whitaker, which won an Oscar for his portrayal of the African dictator.
Although Foden spent much of his adult life living in Norfolk, his next three novels were also set in Africa – “because stories set in Africa seem to choose me, and I feel lucky that that. occur.
“With my last book,” he continues, “I remember sitting with my parents, who lived in Rwanda, just before the genocide, and seeing these army trucks taking the Rwandan Patriotic Front army away. towards the border with Uganda. Watching that remains a pretty strong memory; it was like something I had to write.
When not writing, Foden teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her students who have gone on to become professional writers include successful novelist Elizabeth is Missing Emma Healey and Betty Trask Award winner Sam Byers.
“I love teaching,” he says, “it’s such a collaborative process.
In the meantime, he’s already working hard on his next book (also set in Africa) which he hopes will be completed faster than Freight Dogs. Life is not endless, after all.
“I’ve already finished the first draft,” he said, and momentarily smiled. But now comes a wincing frown. “But a first draft is only the first draft. So, uh, yes, let’s see how it goes… ”
What I’m reading now …
Waypoints: a journey on foot by Robert Martineau
“A wonderful book on the opposite of standing still, telling the story of a walking expedition through Ghana, Togo and Benin.”
What I read next …
Memories of a porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
“A duplicate story from Congo’s greatest writer in which a porcupine duplicates its human counterpart.”