As mentioned in my previous post, my May reads all ranked highly. Today I share my review of Kololo Hill by Neema Shah.
Kololo Hill was quite insightful. I have heard about the Asian expulsion by Idi Amin but I had never read an account of fiction from an Indian.
Kololo Hill by Neema Shah (Picador 2020)
Kololo Hill details the events of the Asian expulsion by Idi Amin in 1972. The story follows one Asian family as it grapples with the 90-day decree, what it means to them and how they navigate the new normal.
Motichand moves to Uganda, sets up a business and sends for his young bride Jaya; the two establish their family in Uganda. They birth children: Pran and Vijay who are Asian Ugandan and the only thing they know about India is what they hear from their parents.
Pran is expected to take over the family business which to his dismay discovers is in a debilitating state. When it looks like the business can stand on its own two feet, the decree is issued and the countdown begins. The Asian community is thrown into a state of panic and frustration. The country at large isn`t immune to this eerie feeling. People are disappearing in the night, the Acholis are being hunted down while shops and homes belonging to Indians are vandalised and looted. Neighbours leave without a trace, warning or sound.
Pran and Asha have been married for a few months and the decree seems to be the till death do them apart sort of situation.
Part two of the novel explores the life of the expelled Asians in Great Britain. How they survive, build themselves up after losing everything. It also reveals the changes that loss and grief force on people. The breakdown in family tradition that no amount of prayer can glue back together.
in Kololo Hill, the author raised a good case for Indians who felt that indeed as Ugandan Asians, they had taken so much from the natives and deserved the hate and expulsion. They lived on Kololo Hill in luxury while the natives dwelt in slums. Some of the Asians were oblivious to this fact.
“They can keep on clashing amongst their tribes if they want to, but why don`t they keep us out of it?….That`s when it dawned on Asha: 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 there immune.’’
I enjoyed Neema`s use of multiple voices for all the main characters (Jaya, Pran, Asha& Vijay); I heard the point of view of each narrator, felt with them. This coupled with the simple language makes this book an easy read. However, the ending wasn`t satisfactory. Some of the characters acted out of character which was unexpected.
The book also gave me insight into the 1972 Asian expulsion. Some of the expelled Indians had been born in Uganda and therefore were Ugandans no matter the stature of their family. They were strangers in India as well. I wondered what it would be like to be expelled from my home country, torn away from family and forced to start all over again in a foreign land.
PS; For the non-Ugandans please note that the Indians were allowed back in and are still thriving in Uganda. They are also demanding to be recognised as a tribe in Uganda.
Have you read or heard about the Asian Expulsion?