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‘We Are All Birds Of Uganda’ by Hafsa Zayyan

‘We Are All Birds Of Uganda’ by Hafsa Zayyan

Oiza Cavallari

You can’t stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will…

Before reading We Are All Birds of Uganda, I had never heard or read about some of the historic events that have unfolded in Ugandan history, nor the relationship between Black Ugandans, Ugandan Indians, native Ugandans in Kampala, and East Africa Asians. This book changed that for me with its amazing insights into that history,  despite being fiction.

We Are All Birds Of Uganda is a multi-generational story that transitions between two timeframes of present-day London and 1960s Uganda. It is narrated in different styles, and is split into three parts. We get to know Sameer, a young ambitious lawyer living in London struggling to fill the void of the emptiness he feels and fulfil his family expectations and pressures (one of which is him having to become part of the family business rather than going on his own path). Alongside Sameer’s story, we learn about that of his grandfather Hassan’s struggles to set up and keep his family business afloat following the sudden death of his wife under the dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda.

There comes a point, son, at which it is only right that you should start to give back.

The key themes of the book are racism and forced migration, while exploring micro-aggressions in workspaces, racial hostility, cultural disputes, prejudice, sexism, gender norms, religion, dictatorship, colonization, the meaning of identity, home, and self-discovery.

The brutality racially or religiously motivated killings is depicted with much frankness and honesty, and the influence of the media and the internet is laid bare unflinchingly.

This is what happens when immigrants come to this country and try to steal our jobs!!! (5,000 likes)
Poor baby, but what did he expect going to that area at that time of the night? (100 likes)
Payback time for Moslems. Don’t dish it if you can’t take it that’s all I can say (10,000 likes)
Is it me or are all kids who get killed, Brown or Black?? Doesn’t exactly look like a coincidence… (3,000 likes)

We see the effects of migration as well as the struggles of having to cross oceans to settle in and establish oneself and family in another country. Following along with Sameer as he begins to yearn and discover his family history as he journeys back to through his family heritage and history, we get to witness the beauty of African and Uganda traditions, history, and delicacies. Those explorations were doubtlessly one of the most enjoyable and interesting parts in We Are All Birds of Uganda.

We have preserved our Indian culture and values – Muslim values – the values of our parents and their parents, the value of our ancestors. In leaving Indian, we have clung to those values more tightly than ever before, guided by a powerful instinct not to forget where our ancestors came from and what we left behind.

While the book is split into three parts, it was slow-paced and I got very invested in the narrative of Sameer’s story, which was not necessarily the case for the story about his grand-father Hassan. I would say that the letter-writing style of that part wasn’t my favourite and that it felt more like a random narration than actual depictions of events. In the final part, the book picked up again and it was a joy to see how both stories became interwoven. Overall, this was an enjoyable interesting read that was unlike anything I had read so far.

He is his grandfather as the only place he ever calls home expels him. He is his grandfather as he tries and fails to settle in a country where he experiences cold as he’s never known it. His is father now getting smacked in the face walking home from school. He is his father now as he listens to the drunken slurring of life in Uganda, a country which evokes nothing but anger – how could they do this to us, cast us out here?

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