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.
I wish African schools went out of their way to teach the history of various African nations, there is so much to unpack, learn and understand, I remain thankful that reading is a beloved hobby of mine because it allows me to learn beyond and about the world I live in.
Reading about Uganda is not new to me thanks to the wonderful Jennifer Makumbi Nansubuga, so visiting the world within the pages of Kololo Hill was like visiting an old friend but getting to learn so much more, as I was introduced to many more layers.
Set at the start of Idi Amin’s heinous regime, amidst his expulsion of the Ugandan Asian in 1972. Where his motivation for this can only be called greed, insecurity and a blood hungry thirst for power, thus giving the Asians 90 days to leave the country, they call their home…the only lives many of them have ever known or face endless atrocities.
The story follows the lives of a Ugandan Indian family, Motichand and his wife Jaya, their two sons, Pran and Vijay and Asha, Pran’s wife, and also their houseboy December an Acholi Ugandan, whose tribe was also being hunted by Idi Amin. The words within the pages vividly paint the climate and give insight to a time that hasn’t ever really been given attention to when history is being told. Poignantly showcasing the struggles, heartbreak and jarring motion of the devastatingly upheaving lives.
It is important that she also notes that many Ugandan’s were under thriving compared to the Ugandan Asians, which reminded me of when I first read the title Kololo Hill and learnt the story was set in Uganda. The world hill had so much impact on me because I remember reading the Ugandans lived in squalor at the bottom of the hills and how Idi Amin, exploited this to match his propaganda, very much like Hitler.
Neema Shah’s writing style is one that is easy to follow and her story-telling compelling as the world she describes is brought to life with so much clarity. Kololo Hill is a story about family and most importantly about change. I would compare it to the likes The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which coincidentally is about Indians as well, but I say this because reading Kololo Hill, was as much an experience as reading The God of Small Things, and I recommend this, it never hurts to learn more about history.
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.
Thank you, Picador, for giving me a copy of this book.