THE PLOT: We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan is about an East-African Asian living in London. Sameer is a lawyer who wants to advance his corporate career instead of joining in the family business. Of Indian descent, Sameer’s parents fled Uganda as children after Idi Amin’s coup and subsequent expulsion of ‘foreign’ nationals. The narrative goes back and forth in time, weaving between letters by written from 1945 – 1981 (detailing life in Uganda and the worsening political situation) and Sameer’s present-day experiences as he attempts to subvert his parent’s expectations and forge his own path.
RATING: This would be a four-star novel, but it earned an extra half-star because the ending floored me. The novel is split into three parts and (in Part 1) I was surprised that the majority storyline was about Sameer’s present-day experiences as a corporate lawyer. However, it was when the storylines developed (Part 2), which made me fall in love with this book. So many different themes came together, as well as the Ugandan history and it all melted into a beautiful novel, which left me questioning my own preconceptions about nationality, race and migration.
GOOD BITS: This book takes the themes of immigration, racism and identity, and explores them through so many different lenses. From the microaggressions Sameer experiences in the corporate world, to his relationships with friends from school, to the way East-African Asians and Black-Ugandans view each other (in the past and present-day storylines), it feels like the theme is truly embedded in the narrative. I liked how the past and present mirrored each other and how no character was good or bad, there were shades of grey in everyone.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: At first I felt like use of letters to tell the historical timeline was a bit tired and cliché (c’mon, it’s been done before), but I felt like Zayyan put an original spin on this and it merged well by the end of the novel. I also felt like the opening chapters lacked that extra oomph to get the whole five stars. However, as this is a debut – and one that came about by unusual means as winner of #MerkyBooks New Writers’ Prize – I expect great things to come from Hafsa Zayyan.
OVERALL: I’d put this in a reading list with The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, so if you love those books, I think this will appeal to you. There’s something about family relationships over time and a feeling of displacement and loss of identity due to immigration that tie these books together. However, I feel ‘We Are All Birds of Uganda’ is an original take on an under-told national story. And, it reveals a universal truth about the human drive to migrate, create communities and obligation to family. If you’re not adding this to your TBR, I’m concerned about your taste in books!
Thank you to #MerkyBooks for sending me a #gifted copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I read this as part of a Tandem Collective read-a-long and it’s available to purchase online at Amazon, Waterstones.com and Bookshop.org.