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We Are All Birds of Uganda

"An exceptional, enthralling debut that crosses continents, cultures and generations as it explores identity, family ties, racism and migration."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

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.

The digitally native, all year round, online literature and books festival, with new content released every week is a free-for-all-users festival.

What are you waiting for? Check out a preview of the event and sign up to become a member.


Joanne Owen

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Reader Reviews

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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.

I loved reading this book and discovering the injustice faced by Sameer, his friends and ancestors in the UK and Uganda. Uganda is a country I had no prior knowledge of but the author paints a picture of a place of beauty but also of societal and cultural upheaval.... Read Full Review

Katie Levers

A fantastic debut.

This a debut novel and what a debut it was! A novel set in two timelines. Modern day London sees Sameer, a young lawyer, looking forward to a new stage in his career.

1960's Uganda sees Hassam adjusting to life where every thing he has built up is crumbling around him.

This is a novel of family dynamics, racism and politics. Hassam sees himself losing his livelihood and being discriminated by other persons of colour, but he is not without his own prejudices. Sameer finds his career clashes with his family ambitions of taking over the business.... Read Full Review

alfred nobile

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.

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.

Sameer is the British son of Ugandan Asians, expelled from their home country by Idi Amin. He is on his way to becoming a successful lawyer in London, but is under pressure from his family to return to Leicester to join the family business.

Sameer's story is interspersed with letters his grandfather Hasan wrote to his first wife. These, each several years apart, give the background to the family's ejection from Uganda.

The conflict between the African and Asian Ugandans is mirrored by the racism Sameer experiences in Britain. His colleagues make assumptions about his life and his faith and he suffers numerous slights at their hands.... Read Full Review

Sarah Noakes