In 1972, Idi Amin expelled all Ugandan Asians from the country, a piece of history many people know nothing about. The expelled had mixed heritage: a community was fractured, families were separated and spread across the world.
The matriarch Jaya and her family’s journey to Britain tells both a personal story and emblematic history. We engage with their family’s hardships, and navigate around the sentiment that a sense of “gratefulness” for getting out should outweigh the devastation of losing a lifestyle, a home, family members and dignity at the hands of a violent military force and a power-hungry dictator. People can feel both relief and longing at the same time, after all. It’s also important to learn that many of these expelled people were middle class and could have contributed financially to their new countries had they been allowed to take their money with them. In part, it was their wealth in Uganda that fuelled Amin’s rage, and why he only allowed them to leave the country with £50 (about £1000 in today’s money), barely enough to start a new life.
We find ourselves grappling with the notion of “home”, or whether it only matters when it’s taken away. Neema, for instance, was told to go back to “her own country” on the playground, despite being born and bred in London. We ask: does your notion of home change based on others’ perception of your/their home?
There are parallels to be drawn to modern times, namely society’s treatment of refugees. I hope that books like Kololo Hill can offer perspective and, rather than necessarily giving a solution to intolerance (that’s too much to ask of fiction, in my opinion, or of any one writer), that it can be a much-needed reminder that you never know what someone has gone through, and that while the colour of someone’s skin does not announce their heritage, simultaneously not everyone has the luxury to “go back home”.
Finally (can you tell I’ve got a lot to say about this book?). THE FOOD. The descriptions and presence of food throughout is symbolic and visceral, and made me want to taste the colourfully described combination of Indian and East African flavours. Food is often one of the last holds expelled communities and expatriates have on where they come from, and it has the power to transport us with our senses from a family home in Kampala to a hall in a barracks in England.
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