Drawn in part from the veteran author's own experiences, this deeply felt tale takes readers to 1972 Uganda where, shortly after coming to power, Idi Amin gave all Indians and citizens of Indian descent just 90 days to leave the country. ... Readers will feel her inner conflict sharply, admire her resilience and quick thinking—and come away shocked themselves by the brutality she encounters during this little-known historical episode.
For many young people, this debut YA novel will put Uganda on the map, and for those aware of Africa's violent conflicts, the author offers some insight into the seeds planted deep in its past. The book unfolds through the third-person perspective of 15-year-old Sabine. It opens on August 6, 1972--the morning after Uganda's president, Idi Amin, has had a dream that "all foreign Indians" must be expelled from the country--and the narrative extends through the 90-day period he gives the Indians to flee. As a man spits at Sabine, who is Ugandan-born but of Indian descent, her best friend, Zena, defends her. "One day you'll see with new eyes," the man replies, a foreshadowing of the pain to follow. Sabine's grandfather, Bapa, came to Uganda from India when British colonials recruited workers to build the Kenya-Uganda Railway. Now Bapa runs a successful farm, and his son, Sabine's father, is a wealthy businessman. Zena and her family work on Bapa's farm. The two girls spend every spare moment together; Bapa calls Sabine and Zena "twin beans of one coffee flower." But the escalating resentment the Ugandans develop toward those of Indian descent begins to affect the girls' friendship. On day 12 of the countdown, Sabine's uncle disappears; on day 29, Zena tells Sabine of her own uncle's plans to arrange Zena's marriage to "a high-ranking official in the army"; and on day 36, Zena tells Sabine, "We have to clear our land . . . You are the child of dandelions." With smooth pacing, African-born author Nanji reveals the inequalities of Ugandan society as they enter Sabine's consciousness. The heroine starts out certain of her father's commitment to stay in Uganda, and grows stronger in her defense of the Indians who come under increasing attack. But her resolve diminishes as the tide of hatred becomes seemingly insurmountable. The author paints a balanced portrait; both Sabine and Zena show their shortcomings as well as their strengths, as do other key characters. There are no easy answers here, and Nanji creates a platform for lively debate about the causes of war, and demonstrates how the actions of today influence the societies of tomorrow.
This is an absorbing story rich with historical detail and human dynamics. It's also a subject not often treated in literature for youth but one that resonates with issues closer to home, making this an important addition to young readers' understanding of twentieth-century history. An author's note provides clear, informative background information and context.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Engaging coming-of-age story... Recommended.
—Library Media Connection
The book effectively portrays the rising terror and violence in 1972 as Sabine struggles to deal with a world falling apart. Prejudices are clearly delineated, and the thin veneer of civilization crumbles as the chilling background beat of the radio relentlessly counts down the days left before all British Indians must leave the country. Sabine is a mature, intelligent character amid the chaos, and the political situation is well realized through her eyes. Secondary characters add depth to the story, and Sabine’s star-crossed crush on Zena’s older brother makes her a realistic adolescent. Nail-biting suspense is maintained to the end as Sabine must make the agonizing decision to leave her grandfather behind to save the rest of the family. Excellent historical fiction about a timely yet sadly universal subject.
—School Library Journal
"At fifteen, life is good for Sabine. A child of a privileged, loving, extended Indian family in Uganda, Sabine is happy in her friendship with best friend, Zena, a black Ugandan whose family works on Sabine’s grandfather’s farm. But it is 1972, and President Idi Amin has a dream that all foreign-born Indians should be expelled from Uganda in ninety days. Thus Sabine learns that her Uganda birth certificate is meaningless against her undeniable physical appearance as an Indian. She and her family are now considered enemies of the state. Sabine and her father are in denial far longer than Sabine’s mother, who wants to flee. Amin’s madness ignites the terror and violence that swirls ever closer until it consumes Sabine’s favorite uncle and destroys her friendship with Zena. Award-winning author Nanji (National Book Award finalist, Giller Prize, Best Book of the Year for Young Adults) takes the reader on a harrowing political journey that turns residents into refugees, friends into foes, hedonists into heroes. Sabine’s shock that comes from her slowly dawning realization that true evil can break down the most protective of parental intentions is quickly replaced by her quick-thinking courage, which saves her family members from several dangerous situations. This beautifully told tale brings to life a brutal chapter in world history that could trigger provocative classroom discussion. – Beth E. Anderson.
—Voice of Youth Advocates
The story’s authentic emotions and relationships balance the detailed cultural and historical explanations and combine in a gripping story of a remarkable teen who helps her family face impossible loss.
Gives young adult readers a look at a terrifying time and place in history that resonates in the present.
When the brutal dictator Idi Amin violently grabbed power over Uganda, he declared in August 1972 that within 90 days all Indians would have to leave the country. Part of Uganda's population since the 16th century, Indians played a vital role in the development and growth of the East African economy. Fifteen-year-old Sabine and her family, multigenerational Ugandans of Indian heritage, cannot believe the mandate will be carried out. But as friendships are tested, relatives and friends vanish, and violence and murder rule the day, they must make life-changing decisions with alacrity— and hope that these hasty decisions will save their lives.