Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
I remember this from my childhood, as their arrival in Britain, stripped of their possessions beyond what they could carry, was shown on the evening news. But there was a lot I didn’t know about their forced migration, and Neema Shah’s engaging debut novel has helped fill some of the gaps.
The narrative focuses on three members of the household – Asha; her mother-in-law, Jaya; and brother-in-law, Vijay – in the months leading up to their expulsion and in rebuilding their lives in a colder climate. I liked how the author, whose grandparents migrated from India to East Africa and from there to London, didn’t shirk from depicting the Asians’ own racism and indifference to their compatriots’ poverty (which I observed in Tanzania three decades later). Not that that’s any excuse for the violence enacted upon them through the dictator’s craziness; nor were they the only ethnic group to suffer. Ugandans of African descent, but the wrong tribe, were simply disappeared.
The novel illustrates how forced migration splits families: in this case, because they’d hedged their bets at independence, some members claiming their rights to British passports while others chose Indian. But attitudes divide them as much as documentation: while some readily adapt to a new country and culture, others continually hanker to return.
There’s a resettled Ugandan Asian in the care home, along with Matty, in my neglected WIP. Like the family in this novel, Joshil’s roots are in Gujarat, where I spent a few weeks in the mid-1980s. I doubt I’ll be able to use it in my novel, but I enjoyed being reminded of how bhai (brother) and ben (sister) are tagged onto names as terms of endearment. (Yes, this review is all about me!)
A family story about politics, trust and loyalty, migration and home, thanks to publishers Picador for my advance proof copy. Click the image for other novels about migration and refugees.
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan
As their mother endures months of torturous treatments, her wish to die ignored, Australia burns. Anna follows the progress of the rampant bushfires on social media, excited and appalled. Somehow the environmental apocalypse is more tolerable than the peculiar ‘silent leprosy’ of her body. Starting with the disappearance of a finger, Anna painlessly loses her knee, an eye, her hand. Most alarming is that others seem not to notice, and remain complacent when parts of them begin to vanish too.
The teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg has asked Why aren’t you panicking? Booker-prize-winning Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s eighth novel is part of the answer. We adapt. We accept the extinction of species, habitats and fingers, while deluding ourselves we can colonise distant planets and conquer death. We can’t think for the noise of social media or the backdrop of machinery on which we depend. Lost in familiar places, we use our political and financial power to continue the battles of our damaged childhoods.
I’ve been a fan of Richard Flanagan since stumbling upon The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This is the best of the three of his novels I’ve read so far. Thanks to publishers Chatto & Windus for my review copy.