If you’re non-white living in a majority white place or indeed a visible or identifiable ‘foreigner’ in a land, the chances are you will have at some point been told to “go back to your own country”. Especially in 1970s Britain.

The people who regularly shouted this none-too-friendly command would most probably not stop and think where the target audience actually hailed from… to them, all these ‘foreigners’ were/are one homogeneous group. But what of the many immigrants that came to live in countries indirectly? The African versus West Indian populations, the Eastern European descendants or the East Asians from Japan, China or Korea? All lumped in together for the same treatment. And in particular, what of Asian Africans who came to live in the UK? Where should they go back to? India, Pakistan, Bangladesh versus Kenya, Uganda or South Africa, for example?

Neema Shah’s debut novel Kololo Hill explores these nuanced themes of identity, displacement and loss against the backdrop of Idi Amin’s murderous reign in Uganda during the 1970s. It follows the fortunes of a family fleeing from a country they call home and arriving in the UK with mixed emotions and a suitcase full of memories, needless to say not all of them good. It seems extraordinary now that in 1972 Amin ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s minority Asian population from the country within 90 days. Stripped of their wealth, almost 80,000 people were forced to flee to anywhere that would have them. Many British passport holders arrived in the UK, dispossessed. Shah explores the human toll this took on many families through the eyes of Asha and Jaya, two women fighting to keep their families old and new together. Kololo Hill brings British Asian history into the fore, a subject Shah is keen to uncover in further works.

Whether it’s sexism or racism, or ableism or classism, sometimes it’s indirect. You almost don’t even realise that people are needling at you until later… There are prejudices on all sides; also kindnesses on all sides.”

 

Neema Shah is an author, blogger and marketer whose parents and grandparents left India to make their homes in East Africa and later in London, where Neema was born and lives. Kololo Hill was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award and the First Novel Prize, and is published by Picador in hardback, eBook and audio download. She is currently working on her second novel.
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Author portrait © Alexander James

Katherine Nathan is Executive Creative Director at RATCHET, and video content editor at Bookanista.
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Listen to a full-length audio recording of this interview

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