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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.
'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.
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 Digital|
|Genres:||Audiobooks of the Month, Family Drama, Diverse Voices,|
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