Although this is my first encounter with this author’s writing, after reading the synopsis, I was really interested in this story. We do not seem to have enough historical fiction books capturing African historical events and this got me pumped up to dive into this one.
‘Kololo Hill’ recounts the experiences of Ugandan Asians during the regime of the infamous Idi Amin, who saw them as the enemy and asked them all to leave the country in 90 days. Most of these people were born in Uganda and had built their lives there so this came as a rude shock because many had no where to go. The story is told by following the lives of a Ugandan Indian family, an older couple with their two grown sons, one of which is married to Asher, a Ugandan Indian herself. Between the five of them, three have British passports while two have Ugandan passports and they do not wish to be separated but what choices do they have? As the deadline draws nearer and the country becomes more and more dangerous for Asians, they take a decision which would keep them apart but with a hope that somehow, fate will bring them back together. They arrive in England and attempt to start all over again but things will never be the same again.
I was interested in reading this story because most of my knowledge about this terrible time in Ugandan history during Amin’s regime was mostly from movies usually from the perspective of Ugandans or other foreigners such as British journalists. The expulsion of Ugandan Asians was always mentioned in these narratives but that was just about it. I was curious to learn about their experiences at this time, however, this story didn’t do it for me at all. It took me quite a while to get into the story because I felt a lot of time was spent recalling past memories that happened long before this time. While this was supposed to throw some light on their history and how most Ugandan Asians came to live in Uganda, it took up too much space in the story. This story was sold on the premise of Ugandan Asians given 90 days to leave the country and how they were able to leave all that they had worked for and start new lives else where. This was not the case here. Instead, this was sandwiched between other mundane occurrences that didn’t do justice to the theme. There was too much lingering on issues and in places that didn’t need that much time spent on them and a rush around parts of the story that I felt needed to be told. I also had expected it to be more fast paced and action packed. Ultimately, I was disappointed with this one.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Published: February 18th 2020 by Picador
Genre: Historical Fiction
Neema Shah’s novel Kololo Hill was chosen as a 2021 Pick for Foyles, The Daily Mail, The Irish Times and Cosmopolitan.
She was born and raised in London. Her grandparents left India for East Africa in the 1940s. Kololo Hill is inspired by their lives, as well as those who were expelled from Uganda by brutal ruler Idi Amin. Before publication, Kololo Hill won The Literary Consultancy Pen Factor Live, was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award and First Novel Prize and was longlisted for various other writing awards.
After studying law at university, Neema built a career in marketing, specialising in TV, digital and brand strategy for companies including the BBC. She has always been an avid reader, but rekindled her early love of writing in 2015 while doing a short online course. She also once ran away to join a circus in New York, but that’s a story for another time…
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