Cover Image: We Are All Birds of Uganda

We Are All Birds of Uganda

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”𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘤𝘢𝘯'𝘵 𝘦𝘹𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘭𝘺 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘱 𝘣𝘪𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘧𝘭𝘺𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘺𝘰𝘶? 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘥𝘰𝘯'𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘨𝘯𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘣𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘴 - 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘨𝘰 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘸𝘪𝘭𝘭. 𝘐𝘯 𝘢 𝘸𝘢𝘺, 𝘐 𝘴𝘶𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘦, 𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘣𝘪𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘜𝘨𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘢”

I want to hug this book every time I see it.

Alternately told through Hasan (1960s Uganda) and Sameer (present-day London), 𝘞𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘉𝘪𝘳𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘜𝘨𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘢 unfolds all elements that I look for in a book - historical fiction with spiced multigenerational saga! Perfect score!

Primarily focused on politics, sense of belonging and racial discrimination, we observe one family’s journey in multiple timelines and regions.

Hasan’s life is narrated via letters that he wrote to his deceased wife. Arriving from India, his family was protected in East Africa under British rule later to be threatened by anti-colonial movements and boycott on Asian trade. In the end, he was ’stateless’ - abandoned from every place.

Sameer, on the other hand, is a successful lawyer but lacks happiness, fulfilment and decides to start over when an unfortunate event requires him to visit his family home. I thought highly of his character - giving rise to uncovering his roots and working towards self-growth.

This book was a great learning experience! Little did I know about Former President Idi Amin who expelled Indians from Uganda in 1972 and the British government eventually provided green cards to 27,000 Indians.

Big-ups to the author for writing a simple yet absorbing debut novel. At no point did I feel like taking a break and was crushed as the last few pages approached. Also, the ending left me speechless.
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“We were trying to exterminate them for a while [but] you can’t exactly stop birds from flying, can you? […] In a way, I suppose we are all birds of Uganda.” What a beautiful metaphor used by Hafsa Zayyan in her truly accomplished debut novel broaching the subject of migration and its consequences.

Cleverly switching from the contemporary story of Sameer, 26 year old London city lawyer born in Leicester, to the life of his grandfather Hasan in Uganda in the 20th century that we discover through the love letters he wrote to his departed beloved, Hafsa is offering us a very astute parallel between two worlds, both being quite different but paradoxically so similar, filled with complex characters mirroring each other.

Sameer works relentlessly but isn't fulfilled by his life. He doesn't want to follow the path expected from his parents so after tragedy struck and makes him reconsider, he decides to travel to Uganda and discover his origins, the country of his grandfather with its violent history of independence, nationalism and racial tensions.

Producing an easy read out of a heavy subject like racism is no easy feat, but Hafsa wittily makes us face its reality through many of its countless faces: from the unconscious daily bias, workplace discrimination, familial beliefs and expectations, social media slander, to the blatant hatred and violence towards people of a different colour. She also brilliantly depicts the irony of it all: even the victims of racism are guilty of perpetuating it in a different way; and everyone has its own “motivation”, whether it is love, jealousy, tradition, fear etc.

How do you make things better? How do you consciously stop the bias, even an unconscious one? Have things really changed between Uganda in the 1970s and England today?

A truly thought provoking novel which makes you wonder and question yourself and the world long after putting it down. A real success. I thoroughly enjoyed it, highly recommend it and cannot wait to read Hafsa’s next work.

Thank you very much to Net Galley and Merky Books for sharing this beautiful story with me even though I requested it after publication. Thank you Hafsa Zayyan for captivating us with your words.

Opinions are my own.
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I found this to be an ambitious book that ultimately did not quite achieve all it set out to do. The descriptions of Uganda in the 1960s and the troubles and violence and expulsion there were powerfully and vividly depicted, but I found the epistolary format particularly forced - letters to his dead wife (or at least his memory of his perception of her) rather than a genuine correspondence - and distracting.

Some beautiful passages but the whole was not quite the sum of its parts.
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This is a fascinating study of 1960s life in Uganda for Hasan and his family and present day life in London for his grandson, Sameer. 
Hasan runs a successful business and we learn through the letters that he writes to his dead wife how he struggles without her and misses her although he married again. As head of his family he has responsibilities and when expelled from Uganda during the period of Amin he struggles to settle in Leicester.
Sameer, born in England, has been brought up to work hard and do his best to be a success for the family. His father has expectations for him which will bring him back to the family and the family business.
Sameer is conflicted - brought up to be a successful, hard-working man he has plans and desires of his own. 
This is a moving and sensitive study of faith, family and racism sensitively handled and beautifully written.
Many thanks to Netgalley/Hafsa Zayyan/Random House UK for a digital copy of this title. All opinions expressed are my own.
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Modern day: Sameer is flying high as a young corporate lawyer. His family want him to return to Leicester, to join the family business, but he has other ambitions. 
1960s - 1980s. A man writes to his first wife, telling her of life since she died, Amin’s regime in Uganda and the family’s exile to Britain.

There’s a huge amount going on in here! Race, class, work, family, privilege, the meaning of home, who your friends are... Zayyan has a lot of interesting things to say, and perspectives I don’t think I’ve heard before.

However, whilst I did enjoy reading this, it was one I was never that keen to pick up, and I feel I’ll remember more of the background history than the actual story or characters. I’ve come away with a lot more knowledge of Ugandan/British history than I started with. Although I didn’t love this, Zayyan may be an author to watch.
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A brilliant, moving story, centring on two families, two countries, intermixed with racism, political upheavals and love. A fantastic read that really hits you in the heart.
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I seem to be in the minority here. While I liked this book I didn’t love it unlike most reviewers.

My problem was with the 1960s in Uganda narrative. The author chose to tell this section in a series of letters from Hasan to his dead wife which to be honest just felt forced to me especially when the story requires him to relate events that they had shared. When the narratives begin to merge the letter format makes sense but it still feels stilted.

What this book did well was to highlight a historical event I knew nothing about and that was the expulsion of the Asian community from Uganda by Amin. It was unsettling seeing how the two communities turned against each other and wondering how far things would go against the Asians. 

Racism, cultural differences and the importance of family are also explored in both narratives and make for interesting comparisons.

Through the eyes of Sameer Uganda is bought vividly and colourfully to life and I really enjoyed the sections where he explores the market with all its colours and beauty.

Overall for me this really was a book of two halves and while I appreciate what the author was trying to do with the letters the format just didn’t work for me.

Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about recent Ugandan history.
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There's some fabulous material here but as a novel this feels over-ambitious and a bit clumsy, the result, perhaps, of trying to do too much in one book. 

One story is a modern-day tale of Sameer facing tensions between his 'Asian' and 'British' identities, foregrounded through family expectations and racial politics in his workplace. 

The other interspersed strand is Sameer's family history as his grandfather writes letters to his dead wife telling her about his life under Idi Amin's regime. It's a rather clunky device that results in lots of 'telling', with an exposition-as-history feel. 

I tended to find the writing quite flat. There are some interesting perspectives about race and prejudice, especially about how people can be both persecutors and persecuted depending on their different structural relationships.
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I loved the concept and the themes of this book. The historical research seemed very thorough, and it was really interesting to learn about Ugandan history through the lives of the characters. I also loved the depictions of the different locations in the novel, London, Leicester and above all Kampala, and the sections about Hasan's relationship to Uganda and his experience arriving in Leicester, as well as Sameer's experience when he first arrives in Uganda and falls in love with the country, were my favourite parts of the book. The drawback for me was that the storytelling felt a little flat and two-dimensional, it was very tell-don't-show, with every decision Sameer makes clearly explained and laid out on the page. It felt like the characters all lacked a bit of depth and subtlety. Still, I'm excited to read more books by this author in future.
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This gripping novel is set in the present day, where Sameer is a hard working, highly paid lawyer working hard to make partner in London, to the distress of his parents who are waiting for him to come back to Leicester and help with the family business. His friend moves back home, and is the target of a racist attack, and Sameer's new boss starts to make sly comments about his faith. 
Sameer plans to move to Singapore with his firm, which will be a great opportunity, but will greatly disappoint his family, and he's not sire if he really wants to do it. 
Interspersed with Sameer's story is the story of his grandfather Hasan, an Asian businessman in Uganda, and the inexorable slide towards Idi Amin’s Asian-Uganda Expulsion in 1972. Hasan refuses to believe that he is unwanted, going as far as to renounce the possibility of British citizenship, and there are parallels drawn between the way Asians are treated in Uganda, seen as the owners of businesses that are leeching off the African population, and the racism experienced in Britain.
It read like a historical novel in parts, which were well researched and written, but then there was a bit of a lurch into a romantic interest he meets in Uganda, and an unexpected spiritual aspect. 
It was interesting to read a book written from a decidedly Muslim perspective, and about a piece of history that is not widely known. As the novel progressed, and Sameer visited his Grandfather's old house in Uganda, the pace picked up and got more interesting.
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This book is fantastic: a poignant and beautiful story exploring racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong. Zayyan's debut is not even out yet and it's already featuring on reading lists and racking up 5* reviews - and it's clear why.

Following the interwoven narratives of Hasan's 1960s Uganda and Sameer's present day London, we explore race in different ways. It's a little disheartening to see the similarites between their two narratives, but powerful all the same.

Zayyan won the Merky Book's New Writers Prize with this novel and it sets a stark precedent. It shines a light on a part of British history that is overlooked on the school curriculum, and I found it really interesting to learn about those events through these character's eyes.

I highly recommend picking this book up! At first, I struggled to connect to this book, particularly to Sameer, but as his character began to grow and his connection to Hasan became clearer I struggled to put the book down. This book is astounding and I can't wait to see what comes next from Zayyan. 

Thank you Netgalley, the publisher and Hafsa Zayyan for an advance copy of this wonderful book in return for an honest review.
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This book was deeply moving and profound on so many levels. I learnt about a side of history I know next to nothing about. But that’s the beauty of reading — the chance to immerse yourself in another culture and learn something new. 
Switching from past to present, we follow the story of Sameer and his grandfather Hasan. Sameer is currently a hotshot London lawyer on the road to success. He’s given the opportunity to relocate to Singapore for work, but he knows his family will disapprove. They want him to come home and take over the family business, because that’s what you do as the eldest and only son in an Asian Muslim family. 
Going back to the 1960s, we follow Hasan and what it was like to live under the rule of dictator Idi Amin. Being a family man and a successful businessman, he was forced out of his home simply because of his Asian heritage. He shares his struggles, loss and loneliness during that time. 
The story picks up when one of Sameer’s bestfriend falls victim to racial attack and ends up his hospital. He starts to question himself — who is he? What is his goal? And even his faith? Sameer decides to travel to Uganda and see his family roots and hopefully 
 finds out a bit about himself too. 
This story was unbelievably gripping. The descriptions of Uganda vivid, the narrative full of emotions. The author was able to weave themes of displacement, loss, belonging and finding faith so well within the pages. Also touching on generational trauma and subtle racism that gets passed down through history as well. 
I can see a lot of young people relating to this book — the struggle to find yourself and forge your own path in life vs fulfilling your family duties (ie. taking over the family business, studying a certain degree, getting married and having kids). I think in Asian households, you just don’t talk about your emotions. You can’t express yourself. It’s not always about what you want. Sometimes you have to sacrifice certain things in life for your family, for the bigger picture. In the end, parents are just doing what they think is best for their children (which isn’t always the case) but I feel as though it (usually) comes from a place of love. 
This book covered so many damn things and more. But that ending though. I seriously can’t recommend this one enough!
Thank you Random House UK, Cornerstone and @Netgalley for providing me with an arc in exchange for my honest review.
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We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan @haffy_22 

Telling the story of Sameer a successful but unsatisfied lawyer living in London. Following a tragedy back at home in Leicester he pauses this life and in search for answers to his future goes on a journey into his family’s past. 

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.

This is the second novel I have read recently which shines a light on the Idi Amin’s Asian-Uganda Explusion in 1972 and it was just as fascinating. I enjoyed the addition of narratives from both the perspectives of those forced to leave the country but also those who remained. This created such a multilayered perspective. 

As a debut this book is truly spectacular, covering so many intricate and difficult subjects whilst still weaving a beautiful story. And I know this has no importance to the substance to the book but I am in love with its cover. 

Thank you to @merkybooks and @netgalley for this copy! This book is out TODAY!!! 

#weareallbirdsofuganda #hafsazayyan #netgalley #netgalleyreview #publicationday #newreleases #bookrecommendations #newbooks
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In We Are All Birds of Uganda, Zayyan deftly incorporates important historical events into an impactful story about love, family and duty. 

Our protagonist Sameer, is progressing well in his career in London. He's been chosen for a promotion that could prove to be a fast track to progression in his chosen field. Then, just as he thinks his life is set, his friend is violently attacked, his favourite boss at work leaves and Sameer starts to re-evaluate what he wants out of life. 

It's hard to categorise Zayyan's book. Some might call it millennial fiction, it certainly starts out with that vibe. However, as the story progresses other themes emerge which can be found across a number of subgenres including historical fiction and romance. With a less skilled writer, this amalgamation of tropes could have been confusing or uneven with some aspects done better than others but Zayyan is consistently good. She successfully navigates two timelines - 1970s Uganda with modern day Britain/Uganda - with both proving to be equally compelling for different reasons. 
In 1970s Uganda we follow Sameer's grandfather who finds himself displaced as neither a citizen of India, Britain or Uganda despite having a claim to all three countries. Through a series of letters he writes to his deceased wife, he shares his story of living and prospering in Uganda only to be expelled from his home when the dictator Idi Amin rises to power. It speaks to the arbitrary nature of borders and raises questions around identity. Zayyan doesn't give us the answers either choosing instead to trust us as readers to come to our own conclusions on these matters. Nevertheless there were a few tongue-in-cheek references to the sprawling nature of the British Empire which made me chuckle like this quote: "You see, the thing is that no matter how much you try, my darling, you cannot avoid the British". 

Towards the end of the novel, the romance aspect of the story comes to the fore. I usually don't like romance in books but the complex nature of the relationship adds some grit and conflict which keeps things interesting. 
Zayyan is a young writer with, hopefully, many years of writing ahead of her. I for one can't wait to see what she goes on to write next.
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This was a stunning, heartfelt read that showed the author's live for Uganda and its culture. 
Sameer was a likeable character on the whole, but I grew increasingly frustrated by his cowardly behaviour. I did come to understand his position however, of not wanting to shame or disappoint his family, and those values shone through so I felt it was unfair if I were to give anything less than 5 stars. 
Beautifully written, and I look forward to more from the author. 
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This is a beautifully written book and had lots of moments that made me pause and take stock. The two storylines set in modern day London and 1960's Uganda interweave really well and I found myself learning a lot about Ugandan history and politics. I wasn't previously aware at all of these issues so that added a whole extra dimension to the book. The book deals with so many important issues including racism, religion and cultural identity, family loyalty and first loves and in doing so, it takes you through so many different emotions. I will definitely keep an eye out for more work by Hafsa Zayyan. Thank you for the opportunity to read this.
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This book is an absolute gem. So very readable. Sameer the son of immigrants, is the main character. A qualified, successful London lawyer working all hours in his bid for partnership. This is dangled via a move to set up a satellite office in Singapore. His parents and sister based in Leicester are horrified that he would even contemplate such a move. They believe he should return home, join the family business and marry a suitable girl from the mosque. It is after all traditional and the right way to pay back family sacrifice. A family friend talks favorably about his successful sugar business in Uganda, the country his grandparents fled during the time of Idi Amin. His journey and experiences in modern day Uganda allow him to question his career, his family and his beliefs. A highly recommended read.
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Two stories come together in this book as present-day lawyer Sameer looks back at his family’s past and uses this to put in context his wants and needs for his future. 

It makes for a fascinating read as we move from today’s London and Leicester to Uganda both now and in the past, as Sameer finds out about his father’s troubled childhood and exile from Amin’s Uganda. 

There’s lots of historical context and a view of bigger historical forces, but the real strength of the book lies in what Sameer discovers about himself through his relationship with his father. 

An involving and absorbing read.
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Straight away you can tell your onto a winner of a book when the opening pages intrigue you & grab your attention. The story is told in a dual time line between present with our protagonist Sameer & in the 40s-70s with his grandfather Hasan- this is the period in Ugandan history where Idi Amin took control with his military coup , I was a child during this period of time and remember bits of the history but not all and certainly not the expulsion of the south Asian population. Entwining fact and a superb fictional human story is no easy task along with making it a compulsive tead. With both time lines this is a tale of racism between cultures , the idea that one race maybe superior or inferior because of their physical or biological attributes is expressed in various characters views and narratives and are damaging to all . It’s about placement  & belonging , self discovery faith and love, friendship & family obligations .
In modern day 
Sameer disillusioned with England after a mindless racist attack on his dear friend Rahool , disillusioned with his career & clearly racist boss, Chris & with his over powering father , he takes annual leave before a huge career move to Singapore . He decides to take up an offer of a visit to Uganda and to explore his fathers and grandfathers heritage, whilst in Uganda he meets  the wonderful spiritual Maryam and his soul songs in her presence & at the other end of the spiritual scale Mr Shah a greedy shallow successful business man . Maryam was a wonderful character enlightening & life changing for Sameer and a new path in his life emerges. 
Hasans life , his grandfathers story is told through letters to his beloved dead first wife , his one true love , covering the period of time from her death until his in the early 80s. There are so many layers to his story , grieving for his love , his eventual statelessness caused by his blind faith and love for Uganda when he is warned how the political tide is turning for Asians residing there , & becoming cruelly displaced , the loss of his dear friend Abdullah as he is forced to flee , the scene he witnessed between Amira his love & Abdullah his closest friend & never truly understanding or finding out what happened between them if anything . 
I do hope a sequel is planned as there is so much more to Maryanns story & such a sudden abrupt ending which left me thinking , what happened to Sameer ? Maybe that’s the point , the ending is left open to make you wonder and make you think . I’m sure this book will be a worthy contender for the women’s prize for fiction this year and it is impossible to believe it’s a debut novel. It is one of the best books Iv ever read . Highly recommended.
With thanks to NetGalley and Merky books for my Pre advanced copy for an honest review .
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This is the first book I have ever read looking at Ugandan history, politics and culture. All of the historical information was interesting, well delivered within the context of the plot and created a desire for me to learn more about this fascinating country. 
Outside of the historical side of this book, the way that Zayyan delt with race and culture was unique and skilful. The creation of morally grey characters was fascinating to read, and I felt myself cringe at attitudes depicted many times. 
This book was a little slow to start, though in doing so set the background of the characters well, but by halfway through I was hooked! 
I would highly recommend this book to everyone, and look forward to reading more from this author.
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