Snakepit by Moses Isegawa Knopf $200 Set against the crumbling backdrop of Idi Amin's Uganda, Snakepit chronicles the lives of a small group of friends caught in the maelstrom of the times. At the centre of the tale is Bat Katanga. Like his namesake province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he enjoys a fleeting independence, before losing it to corruption, violence and uncertainty. The Cambridge graduate returns to his native Uganda in time to witness the (anti)climax of Amin's rule, but not before ingratiating himself in the hope of making his fortune. Initially favoured by General Bazooka, a lackey of the regime, he becomes Bureaucrat Number Two in the Ministry of Power and Communications. But just as he's beginning to enjoy the trappings of his success - his mansion on the lake, his green Jaguar, a glittering social life - the general's influence ebbs, and with it, Bat's fortunes. The feisty Victoria, the general's former lover, has borne Bat's child. Torn between love and patriotism, she harbours a grudge against Bat for leaving her, and thirsts for revenge meted out on Bat's wife, Babit. Contemptuous of his sibling's lifestyle and connections, Bat's brother, the secretive Tayari, continues his apparently simple life as a pyrotechnician at society parties. But Bat soon realises his brother has found another politically productive outlet for his talents. Bat's greed provides the foil for the character of his sister, a nurse serving the poor and married to a hard-working cattle trader. She must bear the lonely burden of being the only recipient of Bat's confession that he has accepted a substantial bribe from a Saudi prince. Presiding over the horror are mercenary Englishman Robert Ashes, whose loyalties lie nowhere, and the great astrologer Dr Ali, who alternately feeds and assuages Amin's paranoia with his analysis of the portents, and who will leave by private jet at the first inkling of trouble. As the story reaches its climax, so does the violence fuelled by megalomania and paranoia. Opponents of the regime quietly disappear and their bodies are perhaps found later. Those still alive must decide how sustainable their power is and whether to await their enemies or end the suspense with a gun barrel down the throat. Although Bat scarcely grasps the precariousness of his situation before he loses everything, he discovers just in time a seam of loyalty that will see him through the worst. The story breathes an air of futility - of one regime collapsing only to be replaced by one no better or worse; of people resigned to helplessness in the face of corruption, uncertainty, death; of hollow victory quickly swallowed by shattering defeat; of weariness turning to exhaustion, activism to inertia. Moses Isegawa is a Ugandan who worked as a history teacher before making his home in Amsterdam. His first book, Abyssinian Chronicles, was widely praised, and he has once again created a novel that, despite the agony of its subject, is deeply absorbing and refuses to skirt the moral labyrinth his characters must navigate to survive. For the country, Isegawa answers no questions, fuels no hope. But for Bat, at least, there's a resurrection of sorts.