Cover Image: Kololo Hill

Kololo Hill

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Member Reviews

I read a LOT of books set in the Indian sub-continent and about the immigrant experience - especially people from that region coming to terms with life in the UK or USA.  I'm really quite surprised that this is the first novel I've come across that addresses the 1972 expulsion of Ugandan Asians but the despotic dictator, Idi Amin.  This book has inspired me to read more around this topic, though I suspect it's not going to be easy to find many novels set at that time and in that place. 

In the late 1800s, many Indian workers migrated to East Africa in search of work building the railways. Not all stayed, but many set up businesses and became very successful especially in running stores and warehouses. When Idi Amin took control of the country in 1971 he - like many leaders before and since - built his own following by turning people against each other and he accused Asian shopkeepers of 'milking' his country. In 1972, he gave them 90 days to leave the country.  Kenya had also made life very difficult for Asian business owners a few years earlier, but Amin took it further. Around 80,000 Asians - some of the born and brought up in Uganda and knowing no other home - were expelled from the country.  Kololo Hill tells the story of one such (fictional) Ugandan-Indian family.  

The story revolves around a middle-aged couple, their two sons, and their daughter-in-law as well as their house-boy, December. We see the family arguing over whether to stay, whether to go to India or to Britain, and trying to find a way to keep just a little of their wealth to take with them.  Most of the family end up in the UK, housed in an old army barracks, trying to get used to the cold, miserable weather and the sometimes unfriendly locals.  Mother Jaya, her daughter in law, Asha, and her son, Vijay,  have to tackle the labour exchange, ignorance from co-employees and racism, whilst they wait in hope that the missing son, Pran, will be reunited with them.

It's beautifully written, addresses a time and situation that many people know little about and asks a lot of questions about what you're supposed to do when somebody tells you to "Go back home" but you can't, because home doesn't exist any more.

With thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for a review copy.
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This is quite a novel. A story about a famil having to flee Uganda to go to London and start a new life. They have had to flee from the Uganda of Idi Admin and we see the sheer fear of that time, the instability and  the cruelt y suffered by many. They move to London but the problems, although less life-threatening - are very sad to read about and it was an eye-opener for me. a timely story and one to make you think
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This is a part of recent history that I knew so little about. The story was hard to read in places. There is so much pain and loss and resentment. The family have to flee Uganda and then they face racism in England.  They struggle with trying to adapt to a new country and trying to find somewhere to call home. This is a very moving and memorable read.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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What a lovely read. Kololo Hill is. It is clearly written with knowledge and love. Set initially in Uganda in the early 1970s, it focuses on Idi Amin’s expulsion of the Ugandan Asians. As a child in 1970s Britain I remember this happening, and those with British passports having to escape to the UK without even a coat on their backs.  This novel is the real and moving story of one family and their journey. 
The descriptions of Uganda were beautifully written. Both the sights and sounds, but also the social norms and lifestyle of those living on Kololo Hill in Kampala.  I felt deeply for all of the characters and was so sad for them  having to leave their homes and the country they loved. The fear and worry about the situation at the time was very well portrayed and the book did not hold back on the awful treatment of the Asians and the atrocities that Idi Amin's supporters perpetrated. 
The description of the experiences of the family when they arrived in the UK was sobering and sadly incredibly realistic. Their reflections on the equally cold temperature and reception is well portrayed and needs to be told.  
This is an important read to understand the history and human impact of what happened at the time.  I loved both the human and political messages in the book and highly recommend it. I would love it to be made into a film or TV series so that Asha's story can be shared with a wider audience. 
I understand this is a debut novel and i look forward to reading more by Neema Shah. 
Thank you to the author, the publishers and @NetGalley for the opportunity to read #KololoHill
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Kololo Hill is one of the most exciting reads for 2021. The first time, I came across the blurb, what fascinated me was here’s a book that will talk about the Indian experience in Uganda and Africa, something that is well known organically in many Indian communities but not so well documented in either diaspora literature or mainstream Indian English fiction. 

So why is Kololo Hill so very exciting? The real driver of the narrative are the two women characters, Asha and Jaya, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, who steal the show from the male protagonists and also the looming figure of Idi Amin. There is a calm resolve, steadfastness and perseverance towards defining a new identity for one self in a new land, under new circumstances, which really kept me glued to the book. You are reminded of Indian partition literature and possibly Bapsi Sidhwa’s female protagonists, but reinvented here with a more contemporary tone.

I also continued to be fascinated by the undercurrents of genuine human connectedness between Jaya and her Ugandan house help, December. We Indians can be racist in our own ways and here’s a powerful, counter narrative of a housewife who cares as much about her employee’s safety as her own family’s. This is surely progress from a race relations perspective. However, I really wanted to see Neema push this narrative between Jaya and December some more, where the care could have been more articulated. She leaves it to the imagination which is fine but we need some retelling here because as Indians, we continue to whitewash the personal side of our engagement with Africans even today.

I am really excited about Kololo Hill because it is so relevant in the context of the migration crisis that’s happening today in Europe and it’s a good reminder to be a little bit more open and inclusive when we discuss post-colonial history and who deserves to be where. It’s a book about a time past but also a book about the time present.
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Interesting to read About the Asians being expelled from Uganda and what life was like Living and leaving that Regime. Also interesting to read what it was like trying to start your life again in a Country that did not respect you or recognise what you have to offer. However the personal Connections between the characters stalled and kept repeating, especially when it came to December.
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Kololo Hill tells the story of a Ugandan Asian family, who are expelled from their country by the decrees of Idi Amin. Declaring that all inhabitants of Asian descent have ninety days to leave Uganda, the family have to say goodbye to everything they’ve known, risk being separated, and worse, as they try to find safety elsewhere. The book alternates POV between Jaya, her son Vijay, and her daughter-in-law Asha, as they attempt to navigate a new and uncertain world.
The author has written an incredibly immersive novel. I found myself increasingly invested in the lives of the characters. The story opens with the horrors of Idi Amin’s rule, and yet there is warmth within the family and in their community. The sights and smells of Uganda are easy to conjure with the richly detailed story. The customs and traditions of the characters are beautifully shown.
The alternating points of view allow the reader to understand the different experiences of the characters. Jaya highlights her experiences and adjustments of moving from India to Uganda, and what this means for her self-identity. Vijay and Asha are a new generation of Ugandan Asians, who know no home other than the one they are expelled from, and who now have to experience what it means to start afresh in a new country. The differing histories and experiences of the characters give this book such strong foundations and substance to build upon, which the author has done so brilliantly.
I found this novel so moving because of its focus not on the horrors of Amin’s rule, but on a family. It felt more personal. Their relationships are real and messy and complicated and loving, and I was sorry to finish the book and have to leave these characters behind.
Before reading this book I knew nothing about the expulsion of the Asian population of Uganda, and their resettlement in Britain, but it has made me want to learn more, which, to me, is always a sign of a well-written piece of historical fiction. At its centre though, this book is about family ties, and culture and what “home” means, and one I highly recommend.
Thank you to NetGalley, Picador and Pan Macmillan, and Neema Shah for this ARC to read and review. (Published 18 Feb 2021 UK)
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Kololo Hill by Neema Shah tells the story of a Indian-Ugandan family who had to leave Uganda when Idi Amin expelled all Asians. 
This is a time in history that I knew very little about and read this book with great interest from a historical and political view.  The Ugandan army under Idi Amins rule led an eight year reign of terror and there are elements of this in the story. However, the book focuses less on the atrocities of this time and more on the family who have to flee. It is a beautifully written and interesting book but ultimately I didn’t connect with any of the characters and felt that they weren’t well developed.
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I struggled to get into this book at first but when i did i loved it. I really connected and cared about the characters, it was tough to read in some parts - i was a little disappointed with the end
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Neema beautifully writes a story of home, family, trauma, loss and belonging. It’s a personal story of a period in history which, as becomes clear, from its conception little was recorded of and at the end of it had caused so much trauma that it was suppressed by many.

The story follows one Ugandan Asian family in 1972 as they are faced with the order by Idi Amin for all Asians to leave Uganda. Asha and Pran are newlyweds, living with his parents and brother, Vijay. We get a brief insight into their lives before the expulsion order but it is one already filled with fear and violence, curfew and hushed voices.

The family are forced to separate when they leave Uganda, holding different passports and each country unwilling to take those that they aren’t obliged to. The assortment of passports amongst the family spoke volumes in itself, of how they tried to attain safety and guarantees between them which then backfired and resulted in separation.

The story is told from multiple point of views which really added such depth to the story. Through Jaya, Pran’s mother, we experience her heartbreak at having to start over again and we get an insight into the adjustment she already had to make when she left India for Uganda to join her husband.

Asha and Vijay give us an insight into a new generation starting afresh in England, struggling through raw wounds and bittersweet thoughts of the country they left.

The way Neema showed both the experience of a generation that arrived in Uganda as adults as well as the generation that were born there, gave real substance to the story and showed a nuance of experiences. It demonstrated powerfully the different emotions and issues that affected each one.

I really appreciated the exploration of language throughout the story, the way it is woven into one’s identity and concept of home and the relationship between language and personality. Different notions stood out to me: An elderly woman returns to India from Uganda after many years and finds that her Gujarati is old fashioned, out of date. The way Swahili is discarded by those forced to leave Uganda, no longer needed and merely a reminder of the trauma. Jaya’s struggle to learn English, weary and already having had to learn a new language in a new country a lifetime ago.

Neema wrote with empathy about the concept of home, a concept that came up repeatedly as characters processed what was happening and later reflected. She articulated the visceral pain for those that were being rejected by the place they had thought of as home. Not only that, she also expressed the pain of being forced to ask the question: what and where is home? She demonstrated a point which really resonated with me; home is something you don’t have to think about, it’s natural, it’s welcoming and unquestioning. When you have to think about what and where it is, means that natural unquestioning element is absent.

I was quite gutted when the story came to an end. I had grown so attached to the characters, especially Asha, I wanted to follow the rest of her journey. But at the same time, I think the story ended in the perfect way, marking the end of this episode in their lives. This was a wonderfully written story, I highly recommend.

Thank you to Picador via Netgalley for the e-ARC.
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I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I really got into their characters and why they did what they had to do. A family expelled from Uganda by idi amin and the hardships they face trying to build a new life in a strange country. It is the first time I have read a novel set in Uganda, which I now find strange, as it was a mass upheaval at the time. I like the matriarchal figure trying to keep her family at all costs. A quite realistic account I would imagine
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Kololo Hill rises above Kampala, a leafy suburb of airy colonial homes vacated by Uganda’s former white rulers and then, as Neema Shah’s enthralling debut opens, inhabited by a middle-class that is almost wholly Indian. Kololo Hill, the novel, plants the reader in the shoes of various members of one Ugandan Asian family through the tumult of their forced expulsion, following Idi Amin’s 1972 decree, from a comfortable life in Africa.  In a telling illustration of the rootlessness caused by Empire, family members hold passports issued by different states and so, when the moment of departure arrives, they are forced apart. 

Two strong women, Jaya and her daughter-in-law Asha are at the heart of this story about the grief and hope of migration.  Jaya’s life has been fractured before by moving continents and she wonders if she can bear to uproot herself all over again; “Perhaps it was her destiny never to live one life through to the end, to keep beginning new ones, never belonging anywhere.” But then as now, family ties provide the strength that keeps Jaya upright. 

The moral and emotional core of the story lies, though, with Asha. For her, family cannot fulfil everything that she wants from life, and a new beginning in Britain provides opportunity as well as heart-wrenching choices. In Asha’s traumatic journey to a new land, political upheaval collides with personal turmoil as she is forced to re-assess the reasons behind her recent marriage. Can this traditional and pragmatic union survive in the very different society which is now her home? Her husband, Pran, clings to a past that Asha no longer wants. The fracturing of her old life brings Asha a clearer-eyed perception of her culture and her marriage.  

This story draws on the author’s family history and one of the novel’s great strengths is the sensitive portrayal of complicated relationships both between individuals in a family, and between different communities in each country. No community is free from prejudice towards others, and none has a monopoly on kindness. When Pran complains of racism in Britain and longs to return to Uganda, Asha tells him; “We should all admit it. We didn’t really care, we never thought the problems of that country were anything to do with us.” The family’s ‘house-boy,’ a middle-aged Ugandan man from an outcast tribe, becomes a victim of Uganda’s multi-racial complexities. He is treated by some of Asha’s household with intense affection and by others with callous disregard. 

After the lush depiction of a privileged life in Uganda, the pace of the story builds as the family members navigate their way in new world that can be harsh but is also bristling with opportunity. The central choice Asha must make about her marriage gives rise to a completely absorbing race to the final page. 

An astonishingly confident debut novel, Kololo Hill brilliantly evokes the contrasting societies of 1970s London and Kampala, with seamlessly woven flashbacks to Jaya’s youth in India. In writing that is full of poignant insight, Neema Shah subtly portrays the way that lives can be moulded by different environments, and how historic disruptions can be a source both of despair and of growth for the individuals within one family.  

Neema Shah is wonderful new voice in fiction and one that is here to stay. I can’t tell you how eager I am to read whatever she writes next!
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I absolutely adored this book, Kololo Hill by Neema Shah.  Growing up myself, I remember hearing news reports about the ruthless dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin, but not knowing much background during his reign.  In the early 1970s he ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian minority (c.80,000 people) giving them 90 days to leave the country. These hardworking, intelligent people formed the backbone of Uganda’s economy and had to flee the country with nothing.

Kololo Hill is a simple but effective and emotional story of one of these families, about how they built up their business and were respected in their neighbourhood known as Kololo in Kampala, Uganda. I loved the storyline, the way each of the family dealt with the blows that seemed to just keep coming their way, their tough and horrendous journey to the airport to reach Britain and how they adapted to the new culture when they eventually arrived and settled there.  

While reading this book, I learnt so much, both historically and geographically.  The author is so talented in transporting you to that time and place and her characterisation is excellent. This has to go down as one of the best books I have read so far this year. Five stars.
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Such a poignant story of family set against a horrific part of recent history. 

In the 1970’s Uganda was under the rule of Idi Amin; a brutal, despot leader who is since referred to as the ‘Butcher of Uganda’. He issued an order that all Asian’s living in Uganda had to leave within 90 days. The army attacked, tortured and raped those trying to leave. The government refused for them to be allowed to send or take any of their money or belongings with them. 80000 Asian people were forced to leave everything behind to go to a variety of countries that saw families divided.

Kololo Hill is set during this time and follows a Hindu family trying to protect themselves and stay safe. The book is written from the viewpoints of different family members although I found myself drawn more to newlywed Asha’s dialogue, living with her in laws. She shows a clear head and a strong will that I admired. 

The impact of the barbaric treatment is very well written, their fear, disbelief and uncertainty really comes through. I also found the theme of power (use off, lack off and power struggles) really strong. 

I did find the family’s personal storyline to be slightly weak and some of the characters not as engaging as others but I was kept reading to understand the wider political and human rights issues raised and how this part of African history under a tyrannical maniac unfolded. 

Kololo Hill will be published on 18th Feb 2021, thank you to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this ahead of publication.
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Neema's debut book is not one to miss.

What a captivating story the one of this family, Jaya and her sons, Vijay and Pran, and Pran's wife Asha. One of many families affected by the 1972 decree, where all Ugandan Asian must leave the country. 
Will they all manage to flee Uganda?
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In 1972 Jaya, her husband Motichand, their two sons Vijay and Pran and Pran's new wife Asha, all share a home on Kololo Hill in Uganda. For the younger generation, they have been born and raised in Uganda. Motichand and Jaya's lives are in Uganda now, having made the journey to their new home from India when they were newlyweds. They are all very happy and settled in their Kololo Hill home.
Quickly, things begin to change, curfews become law and soldiers seem to have a greater, stricter presence. News then comes that Idi Amin has decided that all Asians in Uganda must leave within 90 days. For good. Whilst the family are in disbelief, neighbours and friends are abandoning their homes in the night and an increased army presence becomes more aggressive and hostile. We follow the family throughout this journey of realisation; their eventual departure of Uganda and how they pick themselves up and start their new lives.

I feel a bit ashamed to say that before reading Kololo Hill, I knew nothing of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972. Around 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes and businesses behind and begin a completely new life elsewhere. People literally lost everything - I can't imagine how that would feel, one day having to leave your entire life behind and having to move to a completely unknown country with barely any of your belongings.

The story and the heartbreaking decisions that the family had to make were told beautifully, the characters and locations described perfectly. I particularly warmed to Asha who had a savvy head on her shoulders and was not afraid to stand up for herself. Watching the characters grow and adapt throughout led to a satisfying conclusion and I felt very proud of Jaya when she began to make and accept her new life in London.

A great debut and I highly recommend reading this unique book, it was an educational eye opener for me and its lead me to do further research on the topic which shows how it captured my attention.
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A fascinating and evocative exploration of a family's struggle during Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972. The characters are beautifully realised and their stories bring history to life with poignancy and richness of detail. I'd thoroughly recommend it.
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REVIEW: Kololo Hill by Neema Shah @neemashahauthor 

“Who would remember them once they’d gone?...How could you disappear from history books you’d never been inside in the first place? And no one had ever bothered to write it down on paper; their history had been told by one person to another, words changed, parts left out, or added. What did it matter now anyway? Their history in Uganda was over. Who would remember this dukan or Papa?” 

Kololo Hill tells the story of a family during Idi Amin’s Ugandan Asian expulsion of 1972.  A piece of history before reading this book I was shamefully oblivious to, perhaps because I am too young or as the quote above surmises it has been vastly under told within the history books. 

The book is told from the perspective of 3 family members, Jaya (mum), Vijay (youngest son born with a disability) and Asha (daughter-in-law recently married) starting in Uganda it follows their journey during the expulsion, in which they are given 90 days to leave everything, to arriving and trying to establish a new life in Britain as a refugee. 

I enjoyed the book being told from each perspective as it added to the overall depth of the story, in particular Jaya and Asha being from different generations provided an insightful contrast. 

I found the second half of the book to be fascinating and highlighted how confusing, scary and intimidating it must be to arrive in a country vastly different from what you have known, where they speak a language you do not understand, eat food you do not recognise whilst receiving an overwhelming sense of hostility and being unwanted. 

Shah’s book was engaging, thought provoking, educational and invoked a strong feeling of empathy towards the characters which I really enjoyed reading. 

Thank you to @panmacmillan and @netgalley for this advance copy!
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Sadly I am old enough to remember the days of Idi Amin and his atrocities. This book details the story of a family who are forced to leave their country for the UK as a result of his appalling measures. A heart breaking, unforgettable family story spanning thousands of miles. I really felt for the characters in the book. I so wanted them to succeed. A fascinating and incredible story that had me gripped from the first page. Such a horrific time and to find echoes of that today made it all seem horribly close. Powerfully written you could easily imaging yourself in the scenes of the book. The author is to be congratulated on such a phenomenal read. I loved it
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What an incredible, fascinating book that explores War in uganda. The women in this book are inspiring and heartfelt, real and raw. I am so grateful to the author to be able to learn more about this aspect of ugandan history.
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