We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan
For others who forget that immigrants are not always American nor coming to America; for a culture blend of India, Uganda, and England; for a story of characters who are flawed and human, for unclear answers to legitimate problems. It’ll make you think, y’all.
1960s UGANDA. Hasan struggles to keep his family business afloat following the sudden death of his wife. As he begins to put his shattered life back together piece by piece, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.
Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a heritage he never knew.
Moving between two continents over a troubled century, We Are All Birds of Uganda is an immensely resonant novel that explores racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong.
Well I had to wait a month to get a copy of this book from across the country, and I’m glad it felt like it was worth the effort. There was so much in this. It’s roughly two parts, separated by geography or time depending on how you look at it.
What surprised me the most was how about a hundred pages in I realized I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters. They all carried traits that were hard to empathize about: ungrateful; uncompromising; unforgiving. And yet none were uninteresting! This is a story of flawed characters who are extraordinarily human.
This also makes me realize that when I read about immigration or expatriots, I still generally read about Americans in other places, or other people coming to America. This story was a reminder that it’s not always America. 😅 Indians moving to Uganda moving to England moving to Uganda. There were so many culture crossovers and integrations and a sort of pidgin way of living for the characters.
As always, I really loved learning about a place and culture I’m unfamiliar with. In this case it was primarily Uganda, but there was the fascinating blend of India and Uganda together.
The story has no easy answers. There are questions that I couldn’t think of any kind of satisfying resolution. One of the characters is definitely racist, but at the same time you can empathize and understand the other issues that he goes through. It’s a strange and, for me, somewhat uncomfortable moment to hear the person you’ve grown to know and respect start speaking in a way that clashes so violently with my own values.
That element of difficulty and not knowing what’s right and what’s wrong was what I liked best about this story. However, it took a while to get there. This is definitely a slow build story, and it took its time to do things right. Just settle in with this one and enjoy the journey through.
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