4 / 5 Stars; Historical
Uganda, 1972—A family of Asian immigrants now into their second generation in Africa has carved out a life for themselves in this foreign country. As they strive to improve their fortune by reviving the family business, they meet complications beyond mere financial worries. The Ugandan President, Idi Amin has been spreading propaganda accusing Asian immigrants of greed that has native Ugandans at a disadvantage. The family's home of Kampala has turned into a militarized zone where the community does everything it can to avoid run-ins with or even detection by Amin's forces, or else risk being the subjects of the screaming and gunfire they hear just outside their windows every night. News reaches them daily of friends and neighbors who are harassed, assaulted, and abducted.
Then, Amin orders the expulsion of all Asians from Uganda within 90 days, and the families must scramble to remain together as they move their whole lives to new countries that may not want them—if they can even get out of Uganda alive in the first place.
Kololo Hill follows a family of five, including Pran and Asha, Pran's parents, and his brother. Pran and Asha are newlyweds learning to lean on and trust each other, but distrust and uncertainty roil beneath the harmonious surface. Each of the main characters undergoes levels of introspection and growth as they come to terms with their definitions of home, freedom, and what caring for family truly looks like. This novel is told from the viewpoint of several family members as they strive to do what's right for their loved ones and ensure their safety, financial stability, and relational harmony.
Neema Shah opens the novel with dexterity, plunging us right in the middle of the cultural conflict and the tensions growing within the viewpoint family, using visceral images to set the scene and a close third-person viewpoint to immerse us in the minds of the characters. The switch between viewpoints from one chapter to the next keeps us on our toes as we feel the full impact of the dramatic tension between the characters and the disharmony of their individual goals. The characters are complex in their motivations; they truly care for their friends and family, but our trust in each character's judgment wanes as their actions create devastating consequences. The narrative hits us in our nostalgic center as, throughout the novel, each character grapples with their definition of home.
In historical novels following refugees, the common theme emphasizes the devastating risk and consequences of flight from the oppression of one's home country, but often times this focus zeroes in on the physical losses and the struggle for equality even as they have accepted a new life in a new country. But Shah's novel takes us beyond the cultural oppression facing refugees and into the aftershocks of being uprooted and the emotional and psychological toll this can have on the family unit. Kololo Hill is about physically reuniting a family once they cross the border, but it's also about the pursuit of their reuniting relationally.
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