Cover Image: We Are All Birds of Uganda

We Are All Birds of Uganda

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Member Reviews

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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This debut novel blends a present-day tale of belonging and identity with the historical story of the expulsion of Asian people from Uganda in the 1970s.  Sameer is a high flying young lawyer from a British-Asian family, caught between the stifling expectations of his parents and his pressured, joyless career.  Chapters from his point of view alternate with letters written by an Indian-Ugandan businessman to his deceased wife, chronicling the persecution and eventual expulsion of his people from the only country they knew.

The two stories work well alongside each other, which isn't always the case with such split narratives.  Both are equally compelling which helps, and it is clear the two bear some relation to each other which gradually becomes apparent.  Sameer is a likeable character, believable and decent, and is someone I felt I could relate to despite being quite different from him in terms of gender, religion, ethnicity, career etc.  The book benefits from the fascinating and powerful historical context, an episode in history I knew of but knew very little about.  

There are plenty of big themes to be found here, particularly around racism, colonialism, belonging and family.  But it's primarily a book about two people and their lives, with these topics affecting them, and that is what will keep you reading and enjoying.  The broader context will make you think though, and adds to the richness of the reading experience.  The themes about racism are particularly well written and presented within the context of the story.  Sameer's experiences of racism within his law firm give an insight into this subtler and equally nasty form of prejudice.  But there is also the racism shown by some of the Asian characters towards black people, and then by the Africans against the Asians that led to the expulsion.  Underlying all of that is the shadow of colonialism which set the scene for the conflict between the ethnically Asian and African communities in Uganda.

At a time when many white people are trying to better understand racism and people's experience of it, novels like this are an important tool.  By reading about the experiences of characters we care about it, it brings a fuller understanding of the injustices that people face and have faced.  But as I say, primarily it is a well written story that is easy to read and engage with, about a character it would be hard not to like and with a plot that anyone can identify with.  

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys literary fiction and I look forwards to the author's next book.
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Thanks to NetGalley and The Publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.

We are all birds of Uganda is a beautifully written book about identity, sense of belonging, culture and finding what it means to be home. I was surprised how much I sympathized with all the characters, even the ones I didn't agree with. The book explores a lot of difficult subjects whilst also trying to underline the reasons why things happened from many different prespectives. 

I learned so much from this book. I was completely unaware of the history of Uganda, the history of East Asians in the country and their relationship with the local communities. I particularly enjoyed the chapters of Hasan, looking into the history of the country and trying to understand how the past has so clearly affected the present. 

I couldn't put this book down. A thought-provoking, sad but also hopeful story about finding yourself while trying to manage the expectations of your family and your culture. The subjects of race, racism, ethnicity and identity play a crucial role in the understanding of the characters and their journeys. 

I highly recommend this book and I really hope there will be a sequel because the ending left me wanting for more.
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We Are All Birds of Uganda tells two storylines of the past and present day. The past is shown in letters from Hasan to his late wife as he struggles to cope under Amins new regime in Uganda. The present day is told by Sameer who is a young professional in London that’s discovering that everything he’s worked for in life might not actually be what he wants. 

This is a powerful, thought provoking story on race, religion, family expectations and political history. I was fully engaged in Sameers story as he tried to follow his heart and do the right thing even if it’s against the cultural norm for his family. I did however, really struggle to connect with Hasan and the letter writing which meant I found 50% of the book quite hard to get through. Looking at good reads I seem to definitely be the minority in this!

Thank you NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Such a fantastic novel and insight into a history that everyone should know about. It digs deep into how the ghosts of colonialism have solidified tensions in Uganda and among cultures and shows how the past informs the present but doesn’t have to define the future.
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An Unexpected Gem

This book is a beautiful and intricate journey through life, love, loss and disillusionment. 

Gently nudging the reader to compare the political unrest experienced by a family of Indian Ugandans with the pressures and struggles faced by the same family line in modern times through a haunting dual narrative, the experience of characters within We Are All Birds of Uganda both horrifies and intrigues. 

The alternating pace of each narrative drives the plot forward, with the faster pace of the modern day juxtaposing with the slower, more intricate and reflective sections. 

Despite the invitation to reflect on serious issues including racial prejudice and political unrest, the characters you encounter in the novel will entice you in a different way - they are relatable and likeable, despite their very realistic flaws. 

This novel will prompt you to question how much ever really changes, what belonging means and what is truly important in life.

An impeccable debut. 

Thanks to netgalley for providing me with a copy for an honest review.
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Entirely coincidentally, I read this book immediately after reading The Yield. Both books are multi-generational stories that deal with colonisation (Australia in The Yield, Uganda in this), racial tensions, and belonging. Also, both books use letters as a device for reviewing the historical aspect of their story (one long, serialised letter in The Yield, multiple letters over a prolonged period in this).

The letters in We Are All Birds Of Uganda are written by Hasan over the period 1945 to 1981. Most of this time, he is in Uganda and the period concerned covers some huge upheavals in that country, especially for immigrants from India, like Hasan, and their families. We trace the rise of Hasan’s business until the rise of Idi Amin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_Asians_from_Uganda) and then further forward in time.

These letters are mixed into the main narrative of the book which tells us the modern day story of Sameer. Sameer is a talented lawyer working for an international law firm and the book opens with his bosses offering him the chance to be part of the team opening a new office in Singapore. This is the kind of opportunity Sameer has always dreamed of. Of course, things are not that simple. Sameer’s family, moved to Leicester in the UK by the expulsion mentioned above, expects him to return to the family home, marry the right girl and become part of the (successful) family business. This conflict of interests for Sameer is then heightened by a number of further events. I think it is best to read the book to discover how the pressure on Sameer gradually grows. The action moves to Uganda when Sameer takes an opportunity to visit a family friend there and explore his roots (as well as to escape from the situation at home). The people he meets in Uganda come to shape his future and explain his past in ways he did not expect.

For me, the letters sections felt a bit forced. There is a lot of exposition in these letters which feels like it is for the reader’s benefit rather than being realistically what a man would write to the “love of his life”. That said, they are interesting to read and integrate well with the book’s other narrative strand.

Sameer’s story feels very realistic. Whilst I was reading this book, I had a discussion with Gumble’s Yard who read it a few weeks ago, and we both felt that it was good to read a book that presents religious faith in a positive light. Indeed, one of the things this book does well is be sympathetic towards both Islam and Christianity, or, at least, towards people from both those faiths. Sameer is prompted by events to take his Islamic faith more seriously and one of my favourite characters from the book is Jeremiah, a very likeable black Christian friend of Sameer’s who sticks by Sameer and has my favourite line of the book (it probably needs context for proper impact, but ”’You don’t know my guy,’ he says to Angela gently. ‘He’s the smartest person I know, and he doesn’t make decisions lightly. If he says she’s his soulmate, then she’s definitely his soulmate.’”). As well as believable people, the conflicts feel believable as do the locations (even though London is actually the only one I can claim any even basic knowledge of).

For a book that is almost 400 pages, this did not feel like a long book. It is very readable and I’m glad I read it. No spoilers, but the ending is my favourite novel ending for quite some time.
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This beautifully written novel is a story of dualities: Black and Asian, past and present, UK and Uganda. Zayyan examines these divisions, and the liminal spaces that exist between them, drawing the reader into the world of Hasan, a second generation Ugandan Asian, and his grandson Sameer, a second generation British Ugandan Asian. 

The novel alternates chapters following Sameer, who is drawn to retrace the steps of his grandfather by an unexpected houseguest, with letters written by Hasan over the decades, detailing the changes in race relations and hierarchies as Uganda gains independence and Idi Amin stages a coup. 

Zayyan delves into the complexities of race in Uganda and the UK with nuance and grace. I learnt a lot from this book, having had very limited knowledge of African Asians beforehand, but this information was delivered through the narrative naturally and without feeling spoon fed or crammed in. 

The characters in the novel are complex and fully fleshed out, and the sense of place in each setting is strong. ‘We Are All Birds of Uganda’ was a captivating read, and I’ll definitely look out for future books by Zayaan. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I struggle with believing this is Zayyan's first novel such is the excellence of the writing. It is truly spellbinding.  the story centres on Sameer, a 2nd generation UK resident Asian currently working as a successful lawyer in London, and his grandfather, who having migrated to Uganda in the mid-20th century, was forced to flee from there by the Idi Amin regime and ultimately settled in Leicester in the 1970s.

Sameer, by having opted not to join the family business in Leicester, now feels rootless and something of an outsider. He knows all too well that the offer by his company, to relocate to SIngapore, will serve only to widen this gulf yet, when back for a family visit, he just can't face up to revealing his plans to them. It is on this visit he meets with Mr Shah - a successful Asian businessman - who enthuses endlessly about Uganda and the opportunities it offers. Intrigued, Sameer decides to take up Mr Shah's offer of a holiday in Uganda.  

Whilst there he takes the chance to visit his grandfather's old home and receives a warmth and welcome, from the resident family, that he never could have expected.  He is also given a package which contains deeply personal letters, written by his grandfather, that gradually reveal not only the backstory of his family's life in Uganda but also the relentless pressure applied by the Ugandan authorities which ultimately forced them and many other Asians to flee. to the UK.

His time in Uganda, the people he meets and the letters, open Sameer's eyes to a whole new range of life choices and, more importantly, lead him to a better understanding of who he really is. This process of discovery is not an easy one as he has to cope with, religious bigotry, racial typecasting and family tragedy along the way.  But, bolstered by his new found sense of "rooted-ness", he succeeds in creating a new world for himself where he can be comfortable both with who he is and with those he loves. 

This is a seriously engaging novel, told against a true to life  backdrop, and I am sure many readers shall be drawn to read more about Uganda and it's history as a result. As for Hasfa Zayaan, I genuinely cannot wait for her next novel.  She is definitely a writer with an exciting future.
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This was an absolutely beautiful read, the descriptions of Uganda are just amazing, so captivating, set in Uganda and England this story is set both in the past (Hasan’s story) and the present (Sameer’s story). The story looks at a point in both their lives where great change is affecting their story, it focuses on racism, showing parallels for in Britain of the present and the Asian-African tensions in Uganda for Hasan. A beautifully written and moving read, We are all birds of Uganda is a story that will stay with me forever, I am so glad I read this and encourage you to read it too.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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I picked this up as I am on a mission to read more African literature, and this is set (partially) in Uganda. Though I didn’t entirely get on with the writing style, I learned so much from this book about the history of Uganda, and its complicated culture. 

Zayyan tells We Are All Birds of Uganda through a dual timeline. She writes Sameer’s portion of the story in third-person present-tense and the Ugandan portion of the story in letter format. The letters are written by Hasan, and chronicle his change in fortunes over the course of several decades. Over this time he goes from a wealthy businessman to being expelled from Uganda. This happened because after Uganda became independent, the ruling regime no longer wanted Asians in the country.

I knew nothing of the Asian culture in Uganda, or the fact that those who were forced to leave after the country became independent came to Britain. This complicated cultural heritage was a little difficult to get my head around for a start, but that was largely because of my own ignorance. 

I loved the characters in the book. Zayyan manages to write them so well that I could almost believe they were real people. I felt the sense of loss and confusion that Sameer went through throughout the novel, and I empathised with him all the way through. 

The plot, though, did meander slightly. I felt that certain parts (especially the ending) were dragged out for longer than they needed to be. I also struggled with the letter timeline at the beginning. Zayann introduced a lot of characters all at once. If she had given me the chance to understand who they were a little more slowly, I think I would have felt less confused. 

Which leads me into my biggest difficulty with the book: the writing style. In some parts of the novel, this problem was more prominent than others. But there were moments of awkward dialogue that didn’t sound quite realistic. The words felt forced, almost as if someone had scripted them for the characters to say. There were also a lot of moments where Zayyan told the reader what certain characters were feeling, rather than letting the characters actions/reactions speak for themselves. 

For some people, the writing style perhaps won’t bother them. It depends on who you are as a reader. For me, however, it detracted a lot from the story and impacted my enjoyment of it. 

Zayyan also includes a list of further reading at the back of the book, to expand your knowledge of the events mentioned. I love this and wish more books would do it. 

So if you want to learn about Uganda, and expand your cultural awareness, I do recommend We Are All Birds of Uganda. Just bear in mind that if a ‘telling’ style of writing bothers you, you might not enjoy the reading experience.
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I adored this book! 
it tells the story of Sameer a high flying solicitor who after growing up in Leicester is living London and hoping to make partner in his firm whilst managing his families expectations that he will join the family business and marry someone his family chooses.  Alongside Sameer’s story we follow his Grandfather’s story through letters to his late wife where he tells of south Asian’s expulsion from Uganda.
Sameer visits Uganda and the experience makes him rethink his whole life. 
The description of Uganda are just beautiful! The details about the human impact of Asian’s expulsion is heartbreaking. I adored this book.
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For fans of historical fiction, here's an upcoming debut that explores complex themes (race, love, belonging, and faith) by depicting the struggles of the Ugandan-Asian diaspora through generations.

The story revolves around two points of view and two points in time. Sameer is a young and successful lawyer in present-day London, whose career seems to have swallowed him whole. Hasan's story is told in epistolary form, letters he's written over the 60s and 70s to his deceased wife, Amira, using them as tools to unload his most inner thoughts and feelings.

Sameer is at crossroads in life; he accepted a professional offer to move to Singapore through his firm, but his family is expecting him to quit his job and work for the family business. Feeling stuck between these two options, neither of which he actually wants, he embarks on a journey to Uganda to visit a family friend, drawn to explore his family history, secretly expecting to find himself.

Racism is a key thread in the book, featuring in both past and present narratives that show a parallel between the experiences of the Asian community in Britain and the Asian-African racial tensions in Uganda.

Faith is another theme that is delicately built in the book, with aspects of Islam laid bare to Sameer at the right moment, and he finds solace in spirituality exactly when he needs it.

Sameer's quest for purpose and finding his identity is moving, but perhaps even more so are Hasan's letters that brim with historical anecdotes about the turbulent period in Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin.

What I found especially admiring is the constant tension in the main protagonists between feeling victimised while also having a guilty conscious. Zayyan has managed to capture something essential here: that there are always two sides to a story, a simple yet often a discarded truth. A truth that gains utmost importance when we try to represent and discuss history.

We Are All Birds in Uganda is a beautifully written, deeply researched, and highly moving novel that will teach you a few lessons. 

Thanks to #MerkyBooks and #NetGalley for my advanced digital copy.
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This was a pleasure to read. Told in an epistolary fashion between two generations that intertwine brilliantly, Zayyan tells the story of Hasan Saeed, an Easy African Indian in 1960s Uganda, and Sameer, a Muslim living in modern day London who is navigating where he wants his life to lead.

Hasan's sections were really just to give an insight into what life was like for East African Indians in Uganda at the time, a topic I knew absolutely nothing about. Hasan details life under Idi Amin regime, being forced out of the country he called home but he evergreen longing for his country. I was so glad to learn a bit of Uganda's history, and Zayyan tells it with such authenticity that I am keen to find out more.

Sameer is expected to return to the family business but wants anything but. He is a high-flying lawyer in London who seems to have a clear-cut path laid out ahead of him, until his friend is the victim of a racial attack. This catapults the character into a need for understanding, for discovery, and for home.

At times it felt like this story dragged a little and I wasn't sure where it was going, but nevertheless this read was moving and thought-provoking. It is also a uniquely positive portrayal of rediscovering faith, between practising and believing.

Out on 21st January and I've a feeling it'll be talked about a lot!

Thanks to netgalley for my review copy!
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We are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan was an absolutely beautiful and captivating novel that made me feel so lucky to have been given the chance to read it early. If you told me this was Hafsa's I'd tell you that you're having a laugh! Reading this felt like Hafsa had written many books slready. It was so hard to put down and I just wanted to read on and on. It really opens your mind to the history of Uganda specifically South Asians who lived in the country. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea there was a vast South Asian community in Uganda. It was therefore very refreshing learning about the history of South Asians in Uganda. The main themes in the novel focus primarily on finding ones identity, religion, cultural factors, racial tension, and family.

The novel is split between past and future as we slowly discover the connections between two characters and one family. It is told through the POV of Sameer and Hassan. Firstly, we see form there is Sameer whose story is told in present day London. Sameer is a hot shot lawyer who is very much career focused during this time in his life. He has worked hard to get where he is and things are looking up as he is offered a promotion in Singapore.

On the other hand, you have Hasan a successful businessesman and shop owner. His timeline takes place between the 1960s to the 1980s. Hasan POV is told through letters he wrote for his first wife and one true love. Through these letters Hasan keeps his deceased wife updated on the goings on of his life and how he struggles everyday to be without her. We also learn of Idi Amin who decided to take away the national identity of Asians born in Uganda. As a This forced Hasan and his family to flea the country as they were now seen as outcasts.

As a character, I really felt for Sameer and could understand where he was coming from. Even though he has this amazing job he feels very much detached from his life and yearns for something more. He tries so hard to integrate to the lifestyle in London but still feels like an outcast at times which was very relatable. Sameer deals with subtle racism in his workplace many times from his boss, who in my opinion was an absolute wanker. Sadly there are many people like him that exist to belittle minorities. Sameer is also torn between moving back to his hometown of Leicester to work in his family business, or to take up the promotion he has been offered in Singapore. Soon Sameer decides to make drastic changes to his life which made me happy as he was soon discovering his roots and where he truly wants to be in life. By delving into his past, Sameer is able to draw a map as to where he wants to be in the future.

I would say my most favourite part of the whole story is when Sameer goes to Uganda and reconnects with distant family members he didn't know anything about. This I feel was a turning point in the story, sort of like a lightbulb moment for Sameer where he finally realises what direction he really wishes to take his life. He also manages to meet Maryam the daughter of a distant family member. I really love how Sameer was able to form this bond and connection with her.

"He looks up and she is smiling. She is radiant. He exhales, her words causing the demons in his head to scatter and flee."

I felt Hasan's POV was a great learning experience. I learned soooo much about the history of Uganda, the South Asian community within it, and the political tension that forced many South Asians living in the country to leave. Hafsa carefully and intricately describes the various issues and how and why the tension was at boiling point within the country. One little tit bit I have is that sometimes when Sameer's side of the story was getting super exciting, it would end up switching to Hasan. I didn't mind this but it sort of allowed for steam to be lost from the overall story.

In terms of the writing, I felt that We are All Birds of Uganda contained some of the most beautiful writing I've read in a while. There are many thought provoking moments that really opened my eyes to things such as my religion and cultural factors. I also loved how Hafsa was able to inject words and context within Islam  into the story.. Many of these had deeper meanings and added to the overall story. I connected so well with the story that it made me feel scene as a South Asian man.

"I have had a lot of time to think here, you see. Time to reflect. 'Allah increases rizq for whom He wills, and straitens it from whom He wills, and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of this world as compared with the hereafter is but a brief passing enjoyment."

Overall, this for me was an absolute masterpiece of a novel. The writing was beautiful and Hafsa is able to raise many social issues in such a short space of time. The ending was also very open ended! I couldn't believe that it ended the way it did which makes me think the story might continue on in the future?? Who knows. But anyway, I think everyone should definitely read this as it's just the perfect novel in my opinion.
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Not sure how I feel about this book. 
It was an okay read and gave a good back story of Uganda and the Asian settlers. I was immensely disappointed with the ending. Not even sure it was supposed to end the way it did. 

Also, the sentences were far too complex with an overuse of semicolons. Drove me mad! Almost gave up on it.
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