A fascinating slice of British Asian history
- Book: Kololo Hill
- Location: London
- Author: Neema Shah
Neema Shah’s debut explores the themes of home, belonging and immigration about an Asian family in Uganda.
The story is told through perspectives of three main characters– newly married Asha, her mother-in-law Jaya and Vijay, her husband’s brother. Asha’s husband Pran does not have his own version, which is just as important as the story unravels against the backdrop of the Idi Amin regime. Shah drip feeds the Uganda Asian history through the peripheral and the main characters. It is told in fascinating detail albeit slows down the narrative a bit. However, it works hard to draw the reader into their lifestyle – the rushed socialising before the curfew, their dukans and the sense of community, fear of being targeted and hunted down by the Idi Amin regime. But once the 90-day expulsion is announced, the family realises that it is their differently coloured passports will decide their destination to safety.
The story really picks up momentum when the family makes a mad dash to get out of Uganda and into the cold streets of London. The sense of disorientation upon their arrival, as they re-examine the concept of home, forms the crux of the novel.
For Jaya, like many Ugandan Asians, it was like leaving home twice over. It is interesting how Shah portrays the two generations, – the older one that still refers to India as home whereas for the younger generation it is Uganda .
While the personal sense of home is prevalent, the effects of the empire is felt throughout the novel – lurking in the Asian presence in Uganda or in the local hostilities faced by the refugees. The biased attitudes are deftly conveyed through well-crafted scenes and casual dialogues.
The sense of solidarity that emerges from shared experience is carefully portrayed through the interaction between the characters. The banter between Vijay and Asha shows off their chemistry while hinting at possibilities. The writing style plays with the reader to make assumptions and that truly enhances the reading experience.
The characters are so firmly lodged in the psyche that the ending of the novel leaves the reader bereft, hoping fervently that they live on in Shah’s next.
Overall, a slice of immigrant history not recorded much in fiction, by a competent novelist who knows exactly how to tell it. Highly recommended.