Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
Published in: 2021
Reviewed by: Book Worm
This ARC was provided by Pan Macmillan (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Welcome or not to Uganda
What GR Says: Uganda 1972
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.
From the green hilltops of Kampala, to the terraced houses of London, Neema Shah’s extraordinarily moving debut Kololo Hill explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones.
My Thoughts: Before visiting Uganda earlier in the year as part of our read around the world challenge I was shamefully unaware of the historic events in that country. This is now the second book I have read covering the same ground, the expulsion of the Asia population by Idi Amin. What I find so shocking is how much history I as an English child was not taught, it is only through reading fictional accounts of events that I am learning more about the world and how for want of a better expression “white-washed” everything I was taught was.
Onto the book – based on the life of her grandparents Neema Shah examines life in Uganda from the point of view of a family of Indian immigrants whose achievements are brutally wiped out by the decrees of Idi Amin. What I appreciated was the fact that Shah’s characters are various shades of grey, these are people doing what they need to survive in a frightening time and that means they do things that are not necessarily correct. I especially appreciated the insight the characters have into why people they have lived side by side with for years may feel that their expulsion is justified.
This is a book that examines its characters closely. Yes the brutal expulsion was wrong but hold on let’s think about this did we give the Ugandans a reason to want us gone? Personally I think England could learn a lot from this kind of self-examination.
Some of my favourite quotes:
“In the late afternoon light, the mosquitoes glowed gold, like embers from a fire.”
“That’s why you put up with a husband. To provide for you, neh?
“Call me December, it’s my name at work. Adenya is my family name.”
“they’d all told themselves that it was nothing to do with them, even when it became obvious that things were getting harder. They’d all lived up there on Kololo Hill as though they were immune.”
“Like so many other families, they’d hedged their bets, collecting passports between them like stamps, trying to tie themselves to different countries. They never expected to have to rely on any of it.”
“But it was the history of the English and Germans and French in Africa – the shelves were full; no space for Indians, nor Africans.”
“At the bus stop, a man with long hair waited, his neck covered in flowery writing: a tattoo, though it looked as if someone had decided to write their shopping list on him instead of finding a piece of paper.”
“English rain, on the other hand, lingered long after it had fallen, sulking on the pavement for hours on end.”
“If God had wanted us to stay quiet during a Hindu wedding, he’d have made it an hour shorter!”
Overall an interesting book which has lots of humour and understanding thrown in, strong female characters and characters who encompass all the shades of grey no simple good and bad which I appreciate.
I liked it. Awaiting her next novel in the trilogy.