Cover Image: We Are All Birds of Uganda

We Are All Birds of Uganda

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

𝘞𝘦 𝘈𝘳𝘦 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘉𝘪𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘜𝘨𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘢 𝘣𝘺 𝘏𝘢𝘧𝘴𝘢 𝘡𝘢𝘺𝘺𝘢𝘯 
“You can’t stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will…”
The debut novel by Hafsa Zayyan, is one I would recommend, it was an unexpected gem of a read! 
A multigenerational family of south Asian, Ugandan heritage and the migrant experience. It was so interesting to read this experience!
Two POVs, two timelines, we have present-day in London and back in the day in Uganda. 
One of Hasan and his experience under the leadership of Idi Amin. The other of Sameer a young lawyer looking forward to the next step in his career. 
This was an insightful read for me, to read about the expulsion faced by Asians from Uganda once they got independence and the effect and impacts it had in their lives. 
Sameer feels like something is missing, he goes looking for it in Uganda. This book grew on me; I enjoyed everyone else more than the main character. I found him annoying at times but even I have to admit, that I could relate to him and understood his need for searching. Sameer's journey of discovery will resonate with so many readers, so many children of immigrants will see themselves in Sameer in some way. 
So what I thought was him being selfish, was probably him just being confused and trying to find himself in the best way he knew how. 
This was such an easy educational read, another book about “home” and what it means to find home. It covers loss, love, family, tradition and culture.
The exploration of religion, family history and culture was written and handled with so much care it felt so genuine
Honestly this novel is written so well; each chapter had such a beautiful tone, emotion and depth. 
Thanks to NetGalley for the #ARC. I enjoyed it so much I had to get a physical copy! 
Home is where you make it.
History lovers, would really appreciate this one! 
Covers important themes: racism, politics, class, colonization, history, immigration, culture, discrimination, love, religion, outdated views and so much more. 
“In a way I suppose we are birds of Uganda..”
Was this review helpful?
A really interesting premise for a book. Two narratives, jumping between contemporary Sameer and 60s -70s letters of Hasan.
Zayyan excels in creating a growing ominous sense of danger and discomfort for Sameer - microaggressions in his life escalate to full out racism, he is torn between duties to his family and their expectations and his own desires - it all feels very real and relatable. Hasan's life is equally interesting, navigating death, disappointment and panic.
I think for me personally, the writing didn't hold up to the interesting backgrounds of the characters. Hasan's letters feel contrived -he writes information his wife would already know and the language overall feels stilted and cumbersome. It wasn't written in a style or way that I enjoy and I do think that made it harder to get through the book. I ended up not picking up the book for weeks because I wasn't enjoying it that much.
I think there's lots here that's good and other readers seem to have no problem with the writing style. It's just that for me, I would have preferred writing that was more controlled, lyrical, flowing. I think Zayyan may have traded off strong prose for accessibility.
Was this review helpful?
I  thoroughly enjoyed this 2021 release. Never has a book taught me so much and made me want to learn more and visit a place as much as this one has. The central theme of this book is racism, but it also considers faith, culture, family expectations, displacement and love. I learnt a lot from reading this book, specifically around the history of African Asian Muslims and their expulsion from Uganda under Idi Amin's rule in 1972.

The content of this story was really interesting, allowing me to explore cultures and experiences that I know very little about, whilst feeling their plight. This book is told from two perspectives (Sameer in modern-day UK and Hasan in 1960s Uganda) and I felt that the contrasting tones and perspectives between the two were amazing.

The writing is beautiful and so descriptive, with descriptions like "The air is charged with a nervous kind of excitement, seasons on the brinks of change, unsure whether they are coming or going, whether it is summer or spring." and I can completely imagine the locations (like  Kampala Uganda and Murchison Falls) on the basis of the descriptions. There are so many quotes that I had highlighted as the author's turn of phrase was stunning: "That is our capacity as humans, to forget, so that we do not stop ourselves from living in the present. That is our gift.".

My one criticism of this is that I found the first 30% to 40% quite slow-moving in storyline and development. It is a matter of personal opinion, but I would say the slow burn at the beginning is a bit of a risk because I kept feeling as though I didn't want to read it because nothing was happening. Having said this, although I found the start slow, just before midway through the storyline picked up and suddenly I was hooked. 

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an escape that has a serious story. Get your hands on this book as soon as you can! "In a way, I suppose, we are all birds of Uganda."

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC of We Are All Birds of Uganda, in exchange for an honest review!
Was this review helpful?
This was a wonderful read. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, by the time I finished the book I had an invested interest in Sameer the protagonist. I have been left with a desire to catch up with him in the future and sneak a look into what life looks like for him and his family. How things have panned out for him.

With the book split into three parts with a duel timeline 1960's Uganda against present time this aspect I fully appreciated as it came into parts two and three of the book. I found the start of the book was a little bit of a drag for me that said the pay off came later for sure. 

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Kampala Uganda, and Murchison Falls it was vivid and accurate for someone who has visited and will be an equally rewarding reading experience for those who have not. Fortunately I have visited Uganda, it took me right back and the words came to life in blustering colour and beauty through my own memories and is one of the reasons I was keen to read this book.

The central theme of this book is racism, it also explores faith and culture. I learnt a lot by reading this book. The history surrounding African Asian Musilms and their expulsion from Uganda under the leadership of Idi Amin's rule back in 1972.  Storytelling this history was presented to the reader through Sameer's grandfather Hassan's love letters to his first wife. It was heavy to read but the parallels Sameer experiences in present day added to the tapestry of the overall story.
 
I would recommend this book and have already done so. I am thrilled for the author Hafsa Zayyan on winning the prize and look forward to seeing what she writes next. It is a cracking debut.

Thank you Netgalley and #Merky Books for this advanced reader copy in return for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Sameer is an extremely hard-working commercial lawyer from Leicester, living and working in London. He has money, a nice flat in Clerkenwell, and enough good friends to fill the hours outside the office. 

Everything changes when one of his oldest friends, Rahool, decides to move back to Leicester and work in the family firm. His other close friend, Jeremiah, also has a new job and though it looks as if Sameer’s career is going well – he has after all been offered a job setting up a new office in Singapore, which would be a huge promotion – he can’t quite bring himself to tell his family, partly because they’ll be disappointed he too isn’t returning home to the family business, but partly because the departure involves an acknowledgement of the racism he faces from some of his colleagues that up to this point he has decided to overlook.

Things are pushed to an even greater level of tension when Rahool is beaten into a coma in a racially motivated attack, only weeks after returning to Leicester. Sameer and Rahool are second generation immigrants whose parents were forced to leave Uganda when Idi Amin expelled all the Asians. They have no memory of Uganda, but they live with the pressure of their parents entrepreneurial success, success hard-earned from their status as refugees with little money or connection to their names. 

Interspersed with this contemporary narrative are a series of letters from Sameer’s grandfather, Hasan, written to his first wife after she passed away. These letters form an account of his life in Uganda as the regime changes and what happened after he and his family were forced to leave and eventually take refuge in England.

I don’t want to say more about the plot, because that would spoil the book, but both narratives explore religion, racism and love. They look at what it means to have and share beliefs across the boundaries of race, nationality and religion in friendship and in desire.

It took me some time to get into the letters, initially they felt a little contrived, constructed to carry the history of Sameer’s family. I was more taken with Sameer’s contemporary account, but over time I was drawn into the events of Hasan’s life and there are passages of remembered dialogue and a few unexpected twists that keep the account from feeling too expositional.

We Are All Birds of Uganda explores the wider fall out of empire in intriguing ways, asking us to look again at national identity and race. I’ve no doubt it will be a novel much talked about in 2021. I think more than anything I admire the ending. I’m not going to spoil it, but let’s just say I like books that leave you wondering what will happen next. Out now, it’s a very impressive debut, sure to appear on some prize lists this year.
Was this review helpful?
I loved, loved, loved this book. The chapters alternate between the viewpoint of Sameer, a Muslim lawyer in his twenties living in London. He is an immigrant and his parents are East African Indians. He has a stressful work life and is trying to understand what he wants from his life. The other chapters are letters his grandfather wrote whilst he was living in Uganda, during the time of Idi Amin's expulsion of South Asians. The novel explores love, identity, trauma, and family. It is a beautiful book and I enjoyed reading it so much. Hafsa Zayyan completely allows the reader to be absorbed in Ugandan life and the disenfranchisement of living in London. She also does a great job exploring the uncomfortable differences that can occur between immigrant parents and their children.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoy fiction with a historical narrative so really liked We are all birds of Uganda. 
The plot jumps timelines between present day and love letters from the past. Identity, culture, geography and the question of belonging are strong themes in the book. It's well written, Hafsa Zayyan has a good control of her craft. Definitely an author to watch!
Was this review helpful?
From my point of view this book is perfect. I loved everything: from the writing style, to the story, to the honesty and courage to talk about such delicate matters as cultural differences and racism in minority groups; to all the information about Uganda and its history that I was not aware of, to that end that really satisfied me.
Was this review helpful?
We are all birds of Uganda

I found this book fascinating. I knew very little of Ugandan history, and the history of the Indian diaspora in East Africa.  Obviously I was aware of British Colonialism but I was somehow unaware that the English had brought Indian citizens with them to Uganda, and how they had essentially engineered conflict between the Indian and African population to distance (elevate) themselves.  This is a dual timeline book, and I found the older passages to be very beautiful and poetic. The newer time line looks at the same issues under a different lens. Parts of the newer time line are somewhat unrealistic. As soon as he arrives in Uganda two beautiful women both throw themselves at him, in order that he can examine what values he wants to align himself with, and in the one he chooses he appears to find the solutions to all his problems. Not as easy as that it turns out, and as much as the ending is frustrating and might be unpopular by many, it's probably the most realistic part of the novel. Don't read if you like a neat tied up ending, this is the opposite.
Was this review helpful?
Exploration of displacement, love, religion, racism, family expectations and finding oneself

We Are All Birds of Uganda is a multi-generational novel told from the vantage point of Sameer, an increasingly dissatisfied young lawyer in present day London, and through the letters of his grandfather Hasan about life in Uganda in the 1960s-70s. Hasan still grieves for his wife and is fighting to save his business as Idi Amin seizes power. The future feels uncertain for both Sameer and Hasan.

Though initially elated when his firm hands him a plum job in the Singapore office, Sameer starts to question where his life is going. He has repeated disagreements with his parents and faces bullying from his racist boss. Then his wallet, phone and keys are stolen in  Leicester Square. 

He decides he needs a break so he takes up an offer from a rich family friend to visit Uganda and to explore his roots. Here’s where Sameer’s story links up with Hasan’s. When Hasan was forced to hurriedly leave Uganda after Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians in 1972, he gave his house to his black servant Abdullah. Soon after Sameer arrives in Uganda, he visits the house and meets Abdullah’s granddaughter Maryam. Pretty quickly he falls in love with her and wants to marry her even though he knows his family will vehemently disapprove. They are racist as well; Maryam is a Muslim, but also an African. The book neatly examines the ongoing prejudices against Blacks in South Asian communities. 

We Are All Birds of Uganda is a hopeful story about finding yourself while being realistic about your family’s short-comings and expectations.  I knew little about Uganda and I’m glad I read this worthwhile book.
Was this review helpful?
This is a jewel of a book. It is thought provoking, and multi layered. It covers themes of racism, identity, cultural expectation and displacement, which are all beautifully woven together. It is also beautifully written. 

Sameer is an up and coming young lawyer, on the verge of promotion, but feels unfulfilled and conflicted. He has turned his back on the family business, avoiding his parents' traditional expectations and his obligations. He works hard, but a situation in his work environment and an unexpected opportunity sees him change tack, and he decides to accept an invitation to visit Uganda. 
It is in Uganda that his family history reveals itself, how he finds himself by moving backwards, not forwards.  He discovers, through a collection of letters, his grandfather Hasan's story. 
I don't want to say too much about this novel, because it speaks for itself and needs to be read. It will be worth your while, should you decide to do so. 

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
“We Are All Birds of Uganda” is a multigenerational novel by Hafsa Zayyan, set between Uganda and UK. In present day London, a young successful lawyer, Sameer, is struggling to juggle his highly stressful job, with family expectations and casual racism, when a tragedy occurs that forces Sameer to rethink his life and values. In post-war Uganda, recently remarried Hasan mourns his first wife, while he writes letters to her, describing his life in a first prosperous and then more and more volatile country. This dual narration was separately very well written, but it felt a bit disjointed to me. I really liked the contemporary part, where Sameer’s struggles with his family ideas for his future, their past and his faith, trying to be respectful and obedient, but at the same time chaffing under the restrains of his upbringing, However, the letters to Hasan’s wife, despite being very interesting, did not connect with the other part of thestory,other then offering the background to struggles of the Asian community in Uganda under Idi Amin’s regime. It was only after Sameer’s visit to Uganda that I was able to link them both more meaningfully. Where the novel sadly fell flat to me, was towards the end, as I was not able to reconcile the change in the main character with his previous life. But as I loved the author’s style, I will be interested to read more by her.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Netgalley for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review.

The book follows the lives of 2 characters as they go through life, Sameer in the present struggling with expectation from his family and what he wants from his life, and Hasan who we learn about through letters that he writes to his late wife, explaining his story through turbulent times within Uganda. 

I loved this book. I loved the way the lives intertwine. I did feel sorry for Sameer, it felt like he could never make anyone happy but I am so happy that the decisions he made were his own regardless of whether they ended up being the right ones. 

I really liked the character development throughout the book and really felt for all characters involved. I am very lucky to have never experienced racial discrimination and I can't not imagine how it must feel to not feel safe within where you feel is "home".

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone.
Was this review helpful?
I adored this. One of my coping strategies during the pandemic has been to read about places I have never been and know little about. Immersing myself I’m stories such as this has been wonderful.
Was this review helpful?
Sameer is a succesfull 26 year old, who lives in London and is fully dedicated to his job at a law firm. However he feels the pull towards his family living in Leicester and the duty his parents are always reminding him of towards the family business. After accepting a position within his firm to move to Singapore to work in their new office, he takes a few weeks off to spend time at home with his family, whilst there he decides to travel to Uganda, where is family is from. A two week trip that will change things....

Such a great debut book. There are two timelines: Sameer's and his grandad's through his letters addressed to his wife at the time Amin was in power. Racism and finding your own identity as first generation immigrant are all topics present in this book, at the same time, Uganda's past and present situation is also presented. I enjoyed the writing and very much felt for Sameer when his parents' objected to most of these decisions, as they weren't what they had in mind for his son, especially compared to Zara, his sister, who happily obliged to all their requests.

Thank you Netgalley and Random House for this ARC in exchange of a honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Overwhelmingly people love this book, but it was not for me. I think I read a different book than all the others. It happens. I mainly could not like the main character, liking the main character is generally not important to me, but I felt the author wanted me to like him and I just could not. Also all the side characters never came to life, they were like cutouts in the background. I am happy the book has so much success, but clearly I was missing something that everyone else seemed to get.
Was this review helpful?
This is a great debut novel and I can see why it has received rave reviews. 
The book switches between present day London where we meet Sameer who is trying to come to terms with his own identity and belonging and then through a series of letters we are transported back to 1960s Uganda . 
For me I loved following Sameer's journey from London to Kampala and I found myself totally immersed in his story. Even though I am well travelled I have never been to this part of the world and I learnt a lot about the culture and life there . The letters part of the book however didn't work so well with me . I found it confusing at first and even though it was a good history lesson I just didn't find it engaging and skimmed over some parts.
The ending is very abrupt but it leaves be hoping for a sequel as I need to know what happens next!
Overall a very well written debut and I look forward to reading more from the author in the future .
Was this review helpful?
We Are All Birds Of Uganda is a wonderful first novel, I enjoyed it from cover to cover.

Set in present day England and 1960’s Uganda it tells the story of Sameer a young London lawyer and his Grandfather Hassan. Living completely different lives in different times, but both experiencing similar types of racial prejudice because they are not ‘native’ of the country they live in.

Sameer has it all, top London job and exciting overseas promotion ahead of him, however when he gets a new manager who makes his work life no longer enjoyable along with a friend being seriously injured in a racial attack, he begins to question where his life is headed. 

A chance encounter with a family friend from ‘home’ takes him on a trip to Uganda, where he truly discovers the home his grandfather was forced to leave in the 1970’s and where Sameer reassesses his future plans.

Hasan's story is told in love letters to his wife, where he shares his life journey from India, to  Uganda and finally to England as a result of war. 

A well written book which really highlights the true meaning of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, while also touching on ‘family duty’.

I absolutely loved this story, its characters and also the history lesson on Uganda and how awfully people were treated.
Was this review helpful?
A wonderfully rich story, telling the tale of Sameer Saeed, a second generation immigrant whose East Asian family came from Uganda, but had to leave in the expulsion in 1972. Sameer's UK family are very close knit, and are saddened by his move to London; he on the other hand wants to spread his wings and see where he lands. His modern day story is woven in with letters from an anonymous letter writer, telling the story of East African Asians and the huge changes they had to accommodate in their position in Ugandan society.
I was a bit confused by the letters to start with, and found them a little less engaging than Sameer's story, but they worked well together and gave a lot of background that helped understand Sameer's parents and extended family.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the chance to read it
Was this review helpful?
A beautiful debut.

So refreshing to read of a story based on Asians from East Africa and I'm so grateful, as I got to learn so much. There are great resources at the back of the book to help you get started if you want to dive into greater depth of Asians from East Africa. 

A great narrative, I loved Sameer as a character. Sameer is a young man who is not entirely secure in his identity. We also read letters from Sameer's granddad, Hasan, who writes letters to his first wife. I resonated with Sameer's chapters more than Hasan's letters, as at times it felt a little bit more like a lecture than a narrative.  There was also the issue with his racism, which makes for uncomfortable reading. I did like how the letters tied in with Sameer at the end. 

Definitely a good read and would recommend to all those looking to expand their minds.
Was this review helpful?