TITLE : Kololo Hill
AUTHOR : Neema Shah
GENRE : Historical Fiction, Cultural Fiction, African Literature, Literary Fiction, Ugandan Literature, Asian Ugandan Literature
FR RATING : ⭐⭐⭐⭐(4 Stars)
DATE OF PUBLISHING : 18th February 2021
DISCLAIMER : Thank you, Pan Macmillan and Picador for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
Kololo Hill by Neema Shah is the debut Asian Ugandan literature set in 1970’s Uganda that will captivate you with its human story of love, loss, and desperation of families who were thrown out of their homes and country. This was such a familiar story, yet so different and important to be read in these times of division, hatred, and otherisms. It is very relevant to the times we live as conversations of race, inequality, oppression, power, and devastation are at the forefront of our lives.
Neema Shah does a fantastic job of bringing us realistic life-like characters whose journeys we follow through the good, the hard, and the ugly to finally get to a place where you can stand proud and tall and not take the abuse anymore. The story is focused on Jaya and her family. Idi Amin and his decree of expulsion of the Asian Ugandan minorities to leave the country within the 90-day mark. They were ordered to flee the country leaving all of their hard work, money, life, and legacy behind. With only Britain to move to and neither of the countries willing to welcome them several families were separated and stranded in different countries. The dictatorship rocked the country and brought shock waves into the lives of ordinary Ugandan and Asian people alike. I read last month, We Are All Birds Of Uganda which tells us a similar story of people having to flee their homes and being stuck in countries where they didn’t belong and having to start their life from scratch all the while going through the trauma they had to endure during the oppressive regime of Idi Amin.
Jaya and her family had a successful business in Kampala. They lived a comfortable life and were blessed with a good life. Idi Amin’s regime was shocking and even in the middle of turmoil and violence Jaya and her husband were hopeful believing that their country wouldn’t betray them. Even though both came to Uganda when they were young, they accepted Uganda as their home and lived and flourished like a lot of other Asians who came to Africa. The economy was improving, but the native Ugandans stayed poor and their situation didn’t improve either. This caused unrest among the locals and created tension in the society. Idi Amin used this tension and exacerbated it because of his hatred for the Asians by throwing them out of Uganda, which has been home for them for a long time. Jaya’s children Pran and Vijay along with her daughter-in-law make plans to go to London and finds out they will be separated. All of this happens right around the time they were keeping a big secret that will threaten their safety in Kampala. With secrets and separation looming ahead, they all have to make their own way in the lands that would welcome them.
This is a story of a family’s struggle to keep all of the members together when circumstances are rearing to tear them apart. Each person has to make their own way in the new, foreign world with a new culture, language, and traditions that make their journey difficult to navigate. This is the devastation the families faced and their tenacity to not let hate keep them down for long. It’s the story of bravery and resourcefulness they show in the face of trouble and turmoil and survive despite the odds stacked against them.
The world of Uganda, its beauty, lushness, culture, traditions, sceneries, and food all are portrayed with so much detail that it brings the setting to life in the readers’ minds. Vivid descriptions and the life-like experiences shed light on the lives of people who had to migrate from their home country if they wanted to live. The characters were written with so much care showing us all sides of humanity, its vulnerability, its cunning methods, and the selfishness in all of its glory. It shows humans at their best and worst and gives us insight into the lives of immigrants who were forced out of their homes.
I loved all the characters and how each of them dealt with the issues they faced. It shows us the differences and nuances of their personality and helps us understand their struggles. Jaya was at first wary and passive, and after she comes into her own she becomes more assertive in her life and takes charge of decisions showing us a woman who is strong and capable of protecting her family. Asha in Uganda and Britain are worlds apart and we see her grow and become self-sufficient. The changes also make her question her life decisions that she made back in Kampala. Vijay has always been under the shadow of his brother his whole life, and yet he comes out of the experience of being a supportive and positive person. He does not judge or cause tension. He is understanding, loving, and everything you can wish for in a human being. Pran was used to his power and being the leader. When it’s taken away from him we see the cracks that appears and how deep they run. Motichand and his love for Uganda and the India he left behind show through his actions. His sadness, grief, and worry of leaving behind the land he loved and came to see as his own affects him deeply. December, despite being Ugandan faces threats to his life and livelihood no one ever expected. I really loved his character and how his presence was a source of comfort for most of the family members. The dread, the fear, the uncertainty and grief each of them faces helps us understand how the situation has affected them. The horrors Asians and certain tribes of Ugandan people had to go through during the regime shows us clearly what a country should not do. It gives us the harsh realities humans have to face if we let our fears, hatred, and otherisms to the forefront.
Overall, this is a story that sheds light on the expulsion of Asian Ugandans during Idi Amin’s oppressive regime. This is a lesser-known history and I am glad I came to know about this in Hafsa Zayyan’s equally moving story before reading this. If you love cultural fiction and historical fiction, that tells us family stories of struggle, resilience, and survival, definitely pick this one up. I really enjoyed this story and I gave it 4 stars. It was an emotional and impactful read. I have to say this was a strong debut and I am looking forward to reading more of Neema Shah’s works in the future.
Buy Kololo Hill –
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.