I would like to thank Katie Green from Picador for my beautiful ARC of this book. All opinions are my own.
Set in Uganda in 1972, an extraordinarily moving debut that tells the story of one family’s escape, when Amin forces them to leave: a story of loss and separation, but also ultimately of hope.
A devastating decree is issued: all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days. They must take only what they can carry, give up their money and never return.
For Asha and Pran, married a matter of months, it means abandoning the family business that Pran has worked so hard to save. For his mother, Jaya, it means saying goodbye to the house that has been her home for decades. But violence is escalating in Kampala, and people are disappearing. Will they all make it to safety in Britain and will they be given refuge if they do? And all the while, a terrible secret about the expulsion hangs over them, threatening to tear the family apart.
The story begins in 1972, Idi Amin’s brutality is on the rise. Already people have been murdered and bodies discarded in the river or dumped. It’s a time of fear, when Amin issues a devastating decree that all Ugandan Asians must leave within 90 days. They are told they have to leave everything they own behind except for a very small amount of hand luggage, all property and money now belongs to the state. They cannot return.
Although story is told through the eyes of a fictitious Ugandan Asian family, the situation the family find themselves in would not have been fictitious for the many Ugandan Asians living in the area at this time. It highlights the difficult, sometimes impossible choices and decisions many families and individuals had to make in order to try and survive.
The book is divided into two parts the beginning Uganda 1972, part two is England 1972. The chapters are told through the eyes of three of the characters Asha, Jaya and Vijay.
Asha and Pran a young Asian couple have only been married a short time, they had only been seeing each other for a while before their relationship was hijacked by the parents, before they new it they were married. They haven’t had time to settle into the marriage before everything is turned upside down. Asha is already having to cope with secrets that Pran is keeping from her. They live with Pran’s parents Montichand and Jaya, along with Pran’s younger brother Vijay. Pran runs the family dukan (shop). Until Amin’s decree is announced, now they have to give everything they have ever worked for away.
What makes matters worse is that they all have different paperwork, as in passports and access to different countries. They all have to leave but who will be going where? How can the family manage being apart? Then there is their houseboy although he is not a boy he is a grown man December, how can they protect him? He has been with the family for decades, but his life is at risk because he is from one of the many ‘wrong tribes’?
The way the story is written it gives you an insight into the families dynamics, hard choices, secrets, and what it must have felt like at this time of unrest. How do you leave everything and everyone you know behind? How do you start again with nothing in a country you have never been too? The devastating things they see and are subjected to as they try to leave.
It was interesting to read of the culture before they were ordered to leave Uganda, the dynamics of families, the descriptions of food, visiting people’s houses, food, the different traditions. The big differences and adjustments they have to make when coming to a country they know nothing about, having to learn a complete new way of living. Dealing with more prejudice in England, where they are told to go back to their own country by some. But where is their home now? The difficulties they face not being wanted anywhere.
I liked how the author developed the main characters, seeing their strengths and weaknesses. How each of them dealt with the challenges they were faced with. Asha is quite a strong person, especially with some of the things she has to deal with. Jaya, as the mother has already had to leave everything she knew behind once so to have to do it again makes her another very strong female character. Vijay has his own things he has to deal with, initially he is probably the weakest but over time the reader sees him grow. It’s interesting that non of the story is told from Pran’s point of view, but that just makes it more interesting as there are things he keeps from everyone throughout which gives the reader a chance to make up their own minds as to how they feel about him.
I beautifully written, thought provoking story, a story we see little of. My son is married to a lady born in England but she is of parents who grew up in Kenya and I now wonder if some of this story relates to her grandparents and parents. Something I had never thought of before as initially I had believed them to be from India. In the story it says about families going to Leicester which is where I grew up, and I vaguely remember a lot of Asian families arriving more in the town than on the outskirts where I grew up. But this is something I will look into a little more out of interest.
I would definitely recommend this as a book to read, it’s not a genre I normally pick but it is good to step out of the comfort zone at times. I give this book 5⭐️ out of 5⭐️. A great debut novel, written with great care to detail and attention.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Neema Shah’s parents and grandparents left India to make their homes in East Africa and later in London, where Neema was born and lives. Kololo Hill is her debut and was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award and the First Novel Prize. She is currently working on her second novel.
Instagram: @neemashahauthor |Twitter: @NeemaMShah