Kololo Hill by Neema Shah (Picador, 18 February) starts with Idi Amin’s declaration that all Asians must leave Uganda within 90 days. What follows is one family’s fear, sadness and the uprooting of their whole life.

Jaya and Motiband moved to Uganda from India and have built up a successful life and business along with their sons Vijay and Pran, who is newly married to Asha. They live in a beautiful house on a lush green hill looking over the slums of Kampala. Now they are told that they must exit the country and leave behind everything they own. Shah writes so intimately about the build-up to the family’s departure. Each character deals with the situation differently, but fears run through them all. With Amin’s curfews getting stricter and his soldiers becoming more erratic, the need to escape safely becomes ever more urgent. Their houseboy December is hidden by the family, as they know he will be killed if he is found. When the time comes for them to leave, the family’s journey to the airport strips them of what little dignity they have left and had me holding my breath as I turned the pages.

Having left behind the atrocities in Uganda they have to start all over again in England. Not always made to feel welcome, and waiting for Pran to join them, they begin their new lives in a cold, cramped terraced house in West London. Questions are raised about accepting your destiny, leaving the past behind and truly understanding where home is and what it means.

Shah writes beautifully and poignantly about a family whose life spins out of their control, and how they try and rebuild it in a country that is so very different from their own. The characters will stay with me for a long time. The two women in the book are strong and full of humanity: Jaya’s faith, which never waivers even when she has to make another new life in yet another country; Asha’s courage, as she grows from a naive newlywed to an independent working woman. It’s a book about finding resilience, strength and rising above chaos and fear.

Watch our interview with Neema

This book is about finding who you are and having the courage to believe in yourself… it is a story of a fractured family trying to understand their disappointments and find meaning in a senseless world.”

The setting of Susan’s Beale’s Misplaced Persons (John Murray, 4 March) is far removed from her first novel, even if the events again revolve around themes of marriage and family. Where The Good Guy was set in the suburbs of 1960s New England, Misplaced Persons is set in Europe at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis and the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.

Each member of the Yardley family is in breakdown mode as they try to find their place in this frightening new world. British-born Neil is having a mid-life crisis, his American-born wife Marcy wants more from life than being a wife and mother, and their Belgian-born children are cracking under the strain of their parents’ discord.

Neil is having an affair with his younger work colleague Chloe. Marcy brings home young refugee Nizar, who has fled Syria. Their eldest Sasha is wrapped up in her studies, middle child Alec is having a hard time dealing with the changes around him and tries to lose himself in his art, while the youngest, Jake, is obsessively building Lego.

With his relationship with his father at a low ebb, his parents barely on speaking terms, and begrudging the addition of Nizar to the household, it all comes to a head for Alec when he is arrested for vandalising the Syrian embassy. The police raid their home, but not all is at it seems.

This book is about finding who you are and having the courage to believe in yourself. Seen through the eyes of Neil, Marcy and Alec, it is a story of a fractured family trying to understand their disappointments and find meaning in a senseless world.


Absolutely dazzling.Marian Keyes

Lisa Harding is part of a fantastic group of emerging Irish writers. Her second novel Bright Burning Things (Bloomsbury, 4 March) is an atmospheric book about addiction and emotional fragility.

Sonya has hit rock bottom. After a glittering acting career in London, she returns to Dublin with her young son Tommy. She is losing control of her drinking, and with Mrs O’Malley from over the road spying on her, she is at risk of losing her son with whom she has a claustrophobic relationship.

When her absent father comes back into her life and orders her into rehab, we follow Sonya on a journey from being on the brink of losing everything to hopeful redemption. What she craves more than anything is the ability to love and be loved. Brought up in an unhappy home, with no real memory of her dead mother, as she jumps from one bad situation to another she finds it hard to suppress the anger she feels – anger at being judged about her parenting, and at the lack of support from her father. Sonya goes through a rollercoaster of emotions, coming to terms with the loss of her mother, her relationship with her father and controlling the ‘winged creatures’ that rise up in her threatening destruction.

Lisa Harding really brings to life the characters of Sonya and Tommy, and throughout the book you really hope she will find the strength and courage she needs to make a better life for both of them. A very emotional and honest portrayal of addiction and all its demons.

Read our interview with Lisa


Sonia Weir is a contributing editor to Bookanista. She started the Ultimate Reads and Recommendations Facebook group in December 2018, which now has over 500 members from all over the world. The group is inclusive and aimed at every reader, no matter the books, authors or genre.
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