Cover Image: We Are All Birds of Uganda

We Are All Birds of Uganda

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Member Reviews

An interesting story of the life of Ugandan Asians, expelled from their home and trying to come to terms with a new life and identity. Although at times it felt more like an earnest history lesson than a novel, it is an interesting exploration of where home is and how hard it can be to meet the expectations of family whilst also trying to follow your own path.
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Hafsa Zayyan is a successful London based laywer (daughter of a Nigerian father and Pakistani mother) specialising in international arbitration and litigation, who was the winner of the inaugural 2019 #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize with this her debut novel – due to be published in 2021, a sensitive exploration of racism, family identity and faith across a range of cultures and generations.

The book is split into two largely alternating sections. 

The first is a present tense (and present day), third party point of view of Sameer – a high flying London based M&A lawyer for an international law firm.  Sameer, Leicester born, is the only son of an Asian Muslim family exiled to the UK after Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion of the Asians from Uganda – a family which has prospered in the UK with a series of Midlands based East African Asian cuisine restaurants (Kampala Nights).   Sameer’s family see his high-flying career as something of a temporary aberration before he finally fulfils his destiny to rejoin the family business (and marry appropriately) – but Sameer is enthused by the prospect of a prestigious secondment to be part of a new office opening in Singapore.   

The conflict between Sameer’s career and family obligations is complicated by a series of developments: his best friend and IT consultant Rahool deciding to quit an unfullfilling IT consultancy career and join the family vehicle rental business – increasing his family’s expectations that he will do the same; the loss of his main supporting Partner at work and the replacement with another partner (also to be head of the Singapore office) whose interactions with Sameer are peppered with racist micro-aggressions; a physical racist attack on Rahool which leaves him in a coma.

The second sections are a series of expository letters written over a timeframe which stretches from 1945 through 1981. They are written by Hasan, starting on the night of his marriage to his second wife, to his first wife and true-love Amira (who died unexpectedly).  Hasan (Sameer’s grandfather) is a successful businessman and shop owner: the letters function effectively function as his narrative diary – a way for him to trace the rise of his business and then the increasing challenges it faces after independence with an increasing rise in African nationalism and Indophobia culminating in Amin’s actions (something which catches the overly optimistic Hasan – but not his family – largely by surprise).  The letters are rather (perhaps unrealistically) exposition heavy and so function for the reader (and later Sameer when he is given them) as a history lesson.

The storylines converge when Sameer, largely to avoid the conflict he is facing between obligations, takes up an opportunity to visit a Ugandan based family friend – and while there visits the house where his grandfather used to live, now owned by the family of Abdullah – a black Ugandan muslim Hasan’s family assistant, turned right hand man (in what started as a case study in African/Asian partnership but increasingly became an awkward if not dangerous relationship for them both).   There he strikes up a friendship with Abdullah’s grandaughter Maryam.

Where the book excels is in its multi-faceted views of racism – seen from both those in a privileged position and those who are the victims: in many cases the same people and groups taking both positions at different times and in different countries or places: Sameer for example experiencing Rahool as a victim of clear racial violence; becoming more and more conscious of what Hasan really felt about Abdullah and about how Hasan struggled when the non-privileged suddenly gained power; becoming more exposed to the current-day prejudices of his own family; shocked and in denial when the victim of prejudice in his own workplace but (when Jeremiah identifies it immediately) suddenly becoming all too aware that until now in his academic success and professional circles he has experienced almost no racism and that Jeremiah’s experience has been fundamentally different.

The book is also an unusually sympathetic and sensitive portrait of faith. Challenged by what he has seen and those he mixes with, particularly Maryam and her family, Sameer starts to take his own Islamic faith more seriously.  And one of the real heroes of the book is Sameer’s other childhood and present day friend – Jeremiah, a black Christian from Leicester, increasingly successful as a music producer and a faithful friend and confidant to both Sameer and Rahool. 
And the book has a fantastic sense of authenticity, not just in the descriptions of high pressured law firm life (no surprise given the author’s background) but equally (and more surprisingly) in its capture of Kampala and Uganda – although I have never visited the City I have friends who have lived there for years and the book closely matched their own descriptions.

Overall a worthwhile as well as enjoyable read and surely a strong contender for the 2021 Women’s Prize.
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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" Hafsa Zayyan.


We Are All Birds of Uganda is set between two continents and two periods of time 🇺🇬 🇬🇧 . In the 1960's Hasan was emotionally struggling to deal with the death of his beloved wife, when a new regime led by Idi Amin led to the expulsion of Asian people from Uganda. They were given just 90 days to pack up their belongings and leave.

This story runs alongside the present day, following Sameer who is first generation son to parents who moved to Leicester from Uganda. Sameer is a high flying lawyer in London, who returns back home to Leicester and begins to question who he is and where he belongs.


This book has so many elements that resonated deeply with me as a reader. I know many people who left Uganda and moved to the UK, and reading a story about that gave me a small insight in to what they must have experienced as 'twice migrants'. The exploration of family, identity, religion, love and racism was beautifully explored it's hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I found reading Hasan's crisis over his nationality particularly emotional, and the use of letters as a narrative was effective in drawing you into Hasan's thoughts and feelings. I can't wait to read more of @haffy_22 ‘s work and highly recommend this book- 5 ⭐️
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We Are All Birds of Uganda follows two timelines of one family: modern London where young lawyer Sameer chooses his own path with a work opportunity in Singapore over his family's business, and 1970s Uganda, where Hasan is forced to leave as an Asian under Amin's regime. 
This book covers a wide range of themes, from colonialism, racism and its different forms in Britain and Uganda, family duty, religion, belonging and love. 

Although I appreciated the two different timelines and perspectives, I wasn't as interested in Hasan's letters as Sameer's perspective. It did reveal more about Ugandan history and Asian expulsion, which has prompted me to research that further, but we were just being told what was happening. At first I was wary of the lack of comment on his outdated and racist views, but it was definitely addressed later on, and I think the merging of Sameer and Hasan's lives was well done. It was also good to see another Ugandan perspective with Maryam to challenge these views.
You really get into Sameer's head and share his stress, anxieties and indecision. The most prominent theme was Sameer's reoccurring conflictions with identity and belonging, which I think was presented and concluded brilliantly. 

This is an amazing debut novel!
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A heartwarming, thought provoking, and sad story about race, racism, family expectations, and finding oneself. Having the right education, being on the way to greatness, earning a lot of money, getting promoted... might not lead to happiness after all. Being alone, never having time, and always feeling like something is missing. That is Sameer's life in London. 

His family expects him to move back home and work for the family business. His company expects him to move to Singapore to set up a new branch. A partner at work expects him to not be Muslim, because for instance Ramadan takes its toll. Sameer tries his best to fit in, but it's impossible to make everyone happy, and he needs a break from it all. He takes six weeks off, and first goes back to Leicester, where his family is, and his friend, who is in a coma after a racist attack. He then travels on to Uganda, where his roots are.

Asians were kicked out of Uganda during Amin's regime. Where does anyone really belong? It is a great question, and the answer is different, depending on who you are. Sameer however finds what he didn't even know he was looking for, as well as some things he was looking for, in Uganda.

The author has tackled universal subjects of ethnicity, race, racism, family, and expectations in a way that I admire. Racism is sadly everywhere, and it goes through the whole society in every possible direction, and sometimes it feels like it goes beyond that to a strange sphere I cannot explain. 

Despite the heavy subjects the book is easy to read, it flows nicely, and it is well-written. Old traditions and the modern world clashes constantly in this book, and I'm sure it's reality for many people in everyday life. I enjoyed reading about Sameer, and how he grew from being a person who simply does what he is supposed to do, even though t didn't make him happy, to someone completely different. I recommend this book!
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Book review - No spoilers 
We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan 
A story told over many decades; the story follows Sameer, in the present day and Hasan, through letters about his life that spans 40 years. Both of them connected to Uganda.
Sameer is a high flying lawyer in London, who has the chance to start a new firm in Singapore. However, his parents would prefer him to come home to Leicester to join the family business. When a family friend comes to visit from Uganda, Sameer has to face a choice; do as his parents want or forge a path for himself.
Hasan is the owner of a very successful business in Uganda. Having lost his beloved wife Amira, he writes about his life in Uganda, as letters to her. Through these letters we find out how Idi Amin forced Asian East Africans out of Uganda, and how that affected not only the lives of the Asians, but the Africans too.
The story travels and transcends time, as we see the issues faced by both men, separated by generations, and how Uganda is the beating heart of the story.
Juggling racism, politics and family, all in one so seamlessly. Racism plays a key role throughout, not only balancing the racism in Britain, but how this played out in Uganda, and changed its politics forever.
I know little of Idi Amin’s life, but found this story a clever way in injecting history, of not only Uganda, but India and England as well.
Sameer’s fears of not knowing his identity, is one I have struggled with myself. But to see his journey with this was exciting to witness. Hasan’s story is a difficult one, but so important for all of us to learn from.
This has been a stunning debut and I cannot wait to read more from Zayyan. I could almost feel the Ugandan sun in my skin, smell the spices and see the colours all around. Zayyan writes as a true bird of Uganda, such vivid scenes brought to life in front of you.
Thank you to @merkybook and @penguinukbooks for graciously gifting me this copy. You can pre-order from Waterstones and This book is out 21st January! 
Favourite Quote
You can’t exactly stop birds from flying, can you? They don’t recognise borders - they go where they will.
Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
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We Are All Birds of Uganda is a marriage between history and the present day; a reconciliation of old and new-found identities; an amalgamation of the strengths and struggles of the Ugandan-Asian diaspora, seeping through generations.

We follow two points of view; Sameer, a high-flying lawyer in London who despite having a successful career, chooses to quit and depart on a journey of self-discovery and purpose. Hasan's point of view is told entirely in epistolary form, as he lays bare his most inner thoughts, feelings and truths in letters to his deceased wife, Amira.

Racism is a keynote throughout; bubbling at the surface, as the past and present narratives parallel the experiences of the Asian community in Britain and the Asian-African racial tensions in Uganda.

Sameer's relentless quest for purpose and attempts at piecing together fragments of his identity are heartfelt and admirable. His feelings palpable, lifting off the pages, powered through Zayyan's sincere and expressive writing.

One of my favourite thing within the novel is the simplistic way in which Zayyan delineates Islaam.  The gradual and tender process in which its tenets become woven into the threads of Sameer's being; offering itself as a spiritual haven.

As difficult as they were, I loved reading Hasan's chapters. His letters were historical anecdotes, painting a clear picture of turbulent Uganda under Idi Amin. History bleeds into the prose and writing, laying it bare. Feelings of despair and desperation suffocate the pages as Hasan, at one point is rendered stateless with no land to claim his own.

This novel was a revelation for me in many ways. It moved, enlightened and held me within its folds as a companion moving back and forth through time. I highly recommend it and sincerely hope that Hafsa considers giving us a sequel because that ending was something. I would also love more on Maryam, a character that inspired me in more ways than one.
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Review: We Are All Birds of Uganda 🇺🇬 by Hafsa  Zayyan.
Winner of @merkybooks New Writers’ Prize.
A beautiful story of identity, love and personal growth. 

Present day: Sameer, a successful young lawyer preparing to leave London for a promotion in Singapore. 
1960s: Hasan, a successful Asian businessman in Uganda, at the time of huge political change and unrest.

We are all birds of Uganda weaves the stories of Sameer and Hasan through alternate chapters. 
I have not enjoyed a book as much as this since Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

Without giving away spoilers it is through Zayyan’s storytelling we see Sameer really come of age and find his true self. Allowing himself to take some time to reflect on his life choices and discover his family history the reader experiences and lives Sameer’s transformation with him. 

Is is through love letters written by Hasan to his widow that we learn about the political and cultural recent history of Uganda. Hasan’s letters give the reader an insight into British colonial rule, the height of Asian success and the racism endured by African Ugandans in their own country. Hasan writes of the political changes that brought about mass expulsion of Asian immigrants, leaving many nation-less.
Hasan’s letters are not only educational, they are the foundations of how Sameer became who he is today.

A book which simultaneously delivers themes of identity,racism, love, family dynamics and expectations, colonial legacy and religion through believable characters that I still want to hear more from. 

I cannot believe this is a debut novel!

‘You can’t exactly stop birds from flying can you? They don’t recognise borders - they go where they will.’

A huge thank you to @penguinukbooks for the opportunity to read and review @haffy_22 ‘s incredible debut novel ahead of its release on January 22nd 2021. I’ve loved taking part in this #BookTour #weareallbirdsofuganda is available to pre-order now at Waterstones and other retailers.
I cannot recommend it enough!
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A fantastic debut novel! 

I loved how the setting moved between London/ Leicester in the present day and Uganda in the 20th century. I did not know about second migration before reading this book and felt I learnt a lot. The characters and plot were well developed, though I wanted to know what happened after the ending!

Would fully recommend this book and can’t wait to see what Hafsa Zayyan writes next.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for a review.
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A thought provoking and moving book! The story moved between London ( now) Uganda ( past) I learnt so much about life, traditions, family, respect, religion and much more.  Sameer was a character I really enjoyed, I was so pleased his life turned out the way it did, he truly followed his heart.  Would recommend
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We are all birds of Uganda – Hafsa Zayyan.

Oh my goodness! How I fell in love with this book and its rich evocative story-telling that traverses continents and generations. The detail and depth of the subjects that the author covers is breathtaking, and the narrative wise and insightful. 

It is a story of love, loss and family and demonstrates how love and duty can bind us as much as liberate us. It is set largely in Uganda and the UK and examines familial and marital relationships in depth and across the generations with a razor-sharp understanding of the myriad of emotions that accompany each relationship. How deep affection and guilt often go hand in hand, how we accept manipulation from family members that we would never accept from others and how new relationships are blighted because of old, unrelated, baggage. The characters are so rich that I would love to read more about many of them, Shabnam's involvement with the unions is just one example of a snippet worthy of a novel of its own.

The author shows how racism, both overt and subtle, impacts the lives of our characters in tumultuous ways; whether it be Amin's expulsion of East African Asians in the early 70's, racially motivated violence in Leicester, dismissive superiority in the boardrooms of London or modem-day mistrust of the Asian community in Uganda. Zayyan weaves this seamlessly into the narrative with a remarkably deft touch that does nothing to diminish the seriousness of the issues whilst keeping the reader fully immersed in the story. 

As well as the romance between some of the major characters, this is also a love story to Uganda but one written with a full awareness of its faults. This novel is a truly remarkable debut and I am excited to sing its praises to all who will listen. I have found a new favourite author.
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Besides being a love story, this tells of how Ugandan Asians were expelled from their country in the 60's. It examines the hardships and prejudices they faced at the time and how it affected the families in the future and their outlook on life. It is told over two timelines from two different people's perspective. It did not feel like a history lesson but in fact it was as I had no idea about why they were in Uganda and then why they were expelled.
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone. Merky Books for the advance copy of this book.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House/Merky Books for the complimentary advance review copy of this book.  
This is a tale told in two parts, set in both Uganda in the past, and from the UK in the present day. As the story unfolds, it emerges that Sameer - the protagonist, a young lawyer living in London - slowly wants to unearth more of his familial history, which is slowly revealed through letters from Uganda from the past.
The book covers Asian/African identity and culture, history, family, relationships, race, work and more. It was also really interesting to get a perspective of what life was life for many people living in Uganda.
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An incredible story told from two perspectives. Uganda seems to be a popular location for books this year. It really does open your eyes to the struggles people have. A superb read that I thoroughly recommend
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‘You can’t stop birds from flying, can you, Sameer? They go where they will…’

The first thing to say is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I learnt SO much from it. 

The novel is set in two time periods and settings; the first being 1960’s Uganda, the second present day London/Leicester.
If I’m being honest, I knew nothing of the history of Uganda before I read this novel, and now I’m keen to read and research more into the tumultuous time that was had upon the country gaining independence from the British Empire. 
It’s the first novel I’ve read which has been set in Uganda, and the writing was so immersive that it allowed me to fully picture the culture, the people, and the places.

You are taken between the story of Hasan in 1960’s Uganda and Sameer’s story in the present-day UK. The two characters' stories are written in different styles, Sameer being written as a narrative from his perspective, and Hasan’s perspective appears as letters he is writing to his dead wife. The characters are written in a beautiful and raw way; as well as seeing growth in them, their many flaws are also laid bare. I especially enjoyed Sameer’s journey of self-discovery, and how he ‘found’ himself again in a place he would have never expected to. 

The racism in this book is rife, but it is interestingly woven throughout both time periods and it made me reconsider some views I have of how  and when racism takes place in our current society. 

Personally, I felt this book made me look deeper into my own dual-heritage (British and Pakistani), and what it must have been like for my grandparents, Dad, and uncles to move here from a country so different to their own. I now wonder what attitudes they encountered from the British people in their local community, and what their lives would have been like had they stayed in Pakistan. 

Zayyan’s writing is powerful, heartfelt, and heart-breaking. It’s amazing that this is her debut novel! I shed many tears at a particular point when Hasan is having a nationality crisis, and felt sombre on many other occasions. This story is a compelling reminder that it is important to know where you come from in order to know where you want to go.
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This is a thought provoking enjoyable read. It is told over 2 timelines and is about love, honour and family and trying to overcome racism. It was interesting reading about a different culture and the racism some of the characters faced was hard to read. It is awful how people judge others based on the colour of their skin and their religion. 

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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This is a book which deals with really important things such as family expectations, religion, racism, how it feels to be a stranger in your own country, and yet it deals with all of these so simply, in such a readable way that it resonates more deeply. Sameer is a high-flying corporate lawyer but he encounters racism at work as he strives to fit in and disappointment at home in Leicester where he is expected to return to help run the family businesses.  His best friend is nearly killed in a street attack and, on a whim, he visits Uganda, home to his ancestral family until they were expelled by Idi Amin.  Sameer's story in interwoven with that of his Grandfather, Hasan, who writes letters to his dead wife Amira telling her how he feels and what is happening in his life.  I am not normally a fan of epistolic passages but this works perfectly here, allowing simple, emotional depictions of life in Uganda in the late sixties, an unguarded portrayal of Hasan as head of an Asian family.  Gradually the two stories interweave more as Sameer finds out more about his family and also realises what is important to him.  This is a family saga, a love story, a political history, a shout to be treated as a person not a skin-colour, a really good read.
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A thoroughly enjoyable read that immersed me in a world far away from the reality that is 2020.

This book goes between generations and is a beautifully written story which highlights that although humans are all over the world, we are all very connected and come across the same problems in life.

I love reading about people so this was ideal.
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Truly beautiful multigenerational journey through time and space.

These days, I've been longing for an escape from reality to take my mind off the current difficult times we're in. I needed a story to fully immerse myself into and characters to fall in love with. This is exactly what We Are All Birds of Uganda has been able to give me; I honestly couldn't put it down while it took me on a journey between present day London and 1960s Uganda.

The story alternates between Sameer, a London-based lawyer who dreams of growing his career in Singapore whilst being held back by his family in Leicester, and Hasan, a successful family man in Uganda facing deportation due to his Asian background.

My favorite thing about this book is not even the wonderful story itself, but the striking similarity between the characters of Sameer and Hasan despite the fact that their lives were as different as it gets. They are facing such similar circumstances in the call to run a family business, a sudden family tragedy, prejudice and migration. The role of identity and family plays a crucial role in the novel as well.

I truly can't think of words to describe how much I loved this book. Not only is the story so poignant and emotional, but the setting and writing are very realistic and made me feel like I've actually travelled across the world and across time. Highly recommended.

*Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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“Your home, whatever it is, is where you feel safe, or at least grounded. To be pushed out of it, is to be marked with the scar of expulsion for the rest of your life.”
Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Dignity.

Present day London, and Sameer is a high flying lawyer, who has been presented with the opportunity to set up a new branch of the law firm he works for, in Singapore. He knows his parents won’t be happy about it, they’re still expecting him to return to the family flock in Leicester, to work in the family business. Sameer however, sees Singapore as a step up in his career, perhaps even a partnership if it all goes well, and working in his family’s business is the last thing he wants. However, before he goes to Singapore, he decides to take a trip to Uganda, to visit a family friend, and it’s during this trip that he uncovers his family’s past.

We’re then taken back to 1960’s Uganda where we meet Hasan, a kindly, family man, who is running a very successful business, that is until his sudden and unexpected expulsion from the country, because of his Asian descent. Asians were just one of many ethnic minorities being expelled during the reign of despotic dictator Idi Amin.

With flashbacks to Uganda over the decades, Hasan and Sameer’s lives are intricately woven together to bring us a family saga that prominently displays issues such as religion, racism, bullying and displacement, and covers themes that affect us all - love, loss, and family relationships.

Beautifully written, the storyline deals with the expulsion of East African Indians from Uganda, something of which I knew very little. These people lost everything that they’d toiled to achieve, but in reality, it could be said that they were lucky to escape with their lives, as dictator Idi Amin butchered ethnic minorities in their thousands during his murderous spree.

I always find these stories of displacement difficult to read, they elicit so many emotions, but this is a wonderful and deeply moving novel, and first time author Hafsa Zayyan should be justifiably proud of it.
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