In 1972, the president of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of the country’s “foreign Indians,” giving them 90 days to leave the country.
In alternating chapters, Athaide tells the story of best friends Asha, who is Indian, and Yesofu, who is African and whose mother is a servant in Asha’s home, as they navigate this xenophobic, nationalist chaos. Yesofu is influenced by Mamma’s words—“You and Asha are from different worlds,” she warns him—but Asha is determined to prove him wrong: “Black. Brown. Indian. African. She’d…[s]how him these differences didn’t matter.” Yet when Asha sees Yesofu “cheering, waving, and hollering” at an anti-Indian rally, she is hurt and confused. When, shortly after, at school during a heated argument, Yesofu snarls at her, “Don’t [my family] deserve more than being your slaves—don’t I?” Asha is incredulous. As the novel progresses, however, Yesofu, too, has misgivings about this Ugandan nationalism and the possible loss of his dearest friend. Drawing on Athaide’s own childhood experiences as a Ugandan-born British-Indian whose family was affected by the expulsion, the story does not shy from the violence and death of the episode. The use of the alternating perspectives helps readers unfamiliar with the era understand both it and the feelings on both sides; an author’s note provides further context.
Though based in history, this novel is timely, addressing the human complexity of literal borders and figurative walls and lives that are irrevocably and heartbreakingly changed in crises. (bibliography, further resources) (Historical fiction. 9-13)