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Often eye-opening and heart-wrenching, always elegant and absorbing, Hafsa Zayyan’s We Are All Birds of Uganda is an outstanding debut that crosses continents, cultures and generations. Remarkable in its exploration of identity, family bonds, racism, colourism and the phenomenon of twice migration through characters who’ve moved from South Asia, to East Africa, to Europe, I read Sameer’s story in one sitting, utterly engrossed by his awakening from a state of unrest to finding new purpose as he redefines the nature of success.
At 26, Leicester-born Cambridge graduate Sameer is flying high as a lawyer in London, and on track to fast track it to partner when he’s offered a post in Singapore. Life seems sweet, except for fearing what his parents will think of the move, the “filling a quota” remark made by a colleague, and a bullying new boss who excludes him from a social event because “you lot don’t drink”. Then comes news that one of his best friends since childhood has been left in a coma after a vicious attack, and Sameer begins to question everything - who he is, what he’s doing with his life, where he wants to be.
Skipping back to 1945, we follow another Asian Ugandan voice via Hasan’s heartfelt letters to his deceased first wife. Through these we see colonialism through Hasan’s eyes. We read how the British “have crept up on us, unwittingly seeped through our skin and into our bones, and settled comfortably inside each of us like veins”, how they excluded Hasan from their Sports Club, and then comes the rise of anti-colonialism, a push for Ugandan independence, hostility towards and legislation against Asian Ugandans: “We are not natives and we are not Europeans.”
Back in Sameer’s narrative, wealthy Mr Shah, a family friend, speaks of the betrayal of “being turfed out of the country in which you were born, the only country you’ve ever known, like you’re no one, like you’re nothing.” With his move to Singapore looming, Sameer decides to visit Mr Shah in Uganda to find out more about his family history, with monumental effects. Emotionally rich and deeply resonant, it’s no wonder this gem co-won the inaugural Merky Books New Writers' Prize.
The LoveReading LitFest invited Hafsa Zayyan to the festival to talk about We Are All Birds of Uganda.
You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see Hafsa in conversation with Paul Blezard and find out why everyone is blown away by this stunning debut.
Check out a preview of the event here
'You can't stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will...'
1960s UGANDA. Hasan is struggling to run his family business following the sudden death of his wife. Just as he begins to see a way forward, 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 past he never knew.
Moving between two continents and several generations over a troubled century, We Are All Birds of Uganda is a multi-layered, moving and immensely resonant novel of love, loss, and what it means to find home.
It is the first work of fiction by Hafsa Zayyan, co-winner of the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers' Prize, and one of the most exciting young novelists of today.
Closing date: 30/06/2021
In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.
A must read if you enjoyed The Beekeeper of Aleppo, and the devastation caused by social and cultural conflict and the effects it has on generations across continents. Full review
A fantastic debut. Full review
We Are All Birds of Uganda is an interesting and sensitive exploration of race and familial duty. At its heart however are two intense love stories. Full review
This book needs to be read slowly savoured so you don’t miss any of the beautiful, lyrical writing. It is a beautifully told story about life, relationships, family and love. Full review
Fantastic, insightful debut about immigration, family ties, family pressures and British colonialism's historical repercussions in the modern society. Full review
We are all birds of Uganda is a timely and well written debut about race and identity told between two generations of one family from 1945 to the present. Full review
The novel was thought provoking and shows how other cultures both lived in the past and in the twenty-first century. Full review
An important novel about race, culture, family, and belonging. Full review
Poignant and thought provoking with strong messages of loyalty to ones family and ones country. Full review
A stunning debut following one man’s journey into understanding himself and his family’s history. It is rich in description and paints a beautiful picture of Uganda and its history. Full review
The life and times of the Saeed family, past and present. Full review
A compelling and at times hard hitting novel following Sameer as he tries to build a life in London, Leicester and Uganda. Full review
It was a pleasure to read this sensitively written debut novel which concentrates on racial prejudices. Especially the way it raised my awareness of events in the history of Uganda, of which I knew about but not in any depth. Full review
I loved this and I predict that it will win the Booker Prize and if it doesn’t it should! Full review
Deserved of its rave reviews, this book has heart, and speaks on many different levels to its readers, as it tackles issues both contemporary and historical, in the story of an East African Asian family from Uganda. Full review
This novel is deeply moving, covering a range of emotional topics. Despite some being distressing, the story also covers themes such as love, hope and the importance of family. I learnt a lot reading this book about a culture and country I admit I didn't know much about before and am happy I have read this novel. Full review
A remarkably accomplished, polished debut. -- Malorie Blackman
Readers have been entranced by We Are All Birds of Uganda:
'I connected with this book immediately ... Racism, generational culture, love and family ties are all key components of this novel by a really accomplished debut author who I feel sure we are going to hear a lot more from.'
'I can't find the words to describe how much I adored every, single, beautiful word of this totally amazing story. If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would.'
'This is one of the best books I have read in a long time and the writing is exceptional. A truly remarkable debut novel that I will shout about from the rooftops.'
'What an amazing book. Sensitively written, it covers so many issues. Family, religion, racism, bullying, loyalty. Eloquent writing made me feel completely part of the story ... An absolute gem of a book.'
'Zayyan intricately weaves the often forgotten story of South Asian migrants in Uganda, through past and present. Meticulously crafted, beautifully and thoughtfully written, with complex characters, this was an absolute pleasure to read.'
'A beautifully written story with themes of race and emigration. This is an extremely accomplished and readable story.'
Publication date: 21/01/2021
Publisher: Merky Books an imprint of Cornerstone
Publication date: 21/01/2021
Publisher: Merky Books Digital
|Publication date:||21st January 2021|
|Publisher:||Merky Books an imprint of Cornerstone|
|Genres:||Book Club Recommendations, Debuts of the Month, Debuts, Family Drama, Modern and Contemporary Fiction, Diverse Voices, Star Books,|
|Collections:||80+ Must-read Novels by Black Writers - Black Lit Matters, 2021 Preview - Exciting New Books on the Horizon,|
|Categories:||Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),|
Hafsa Zayyan is a writer and dispute resolution lawyer based in London. She won the inaugural #Merky Books New Writers' Prize in 2019. We Are All Birds of Uganda is her debut novel, inspired by the mixed background from which she hails. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge and holds a masters' degree from the University of Oxford.More About Hafsa Zayyan