A History of Burning

The story begins at the turn of the twentieth century, when 13-year-old Pirbhai, the eldest son of a poor family, is conscripted British to work on the East African Railway in Kenya. The hardship the workers experienced was unimaginable. Then one day, Pirbhai commits an act so heinous it will haunt him forever and reverberate across his family’s future for generations to come.

Pirbhai’s children are born and raised under the searing sun of Kampala during the waning days of British colonial rule. As Uganda moves towards independence and military dictatorship, Pirbhai’s granddaughters, Latika, Mayuri, and Kiya, are coming of age in a divided nation.

Then, in 1972, under Idi Amin’s brutal regime, all Asians are expelled, and the family has no choice but to flee. In the chaos, they leave something behind.

Janika Oza’s impressive debut takes readers on a journey spanning four continents and five generations of an Indian family as they’re forced to migrate again and again for political and economic reasons. As Pirbhai’s grandchildren, scattered across the world, find their way back to each other in exile in Toronto, a shocking letter arrives that causes each generation to question how far they will go, and who they will defy to secure their own place in the world.

Before reading this novel, I was unaware that Indians emigrated to Kenya and Uganda, but it makes sense since they were all British colonies. I wondered if part of the reason they left India was to get away from the caste system. Then imagine how Asians felt when they were kicked out of Uganda!

A History of Burning is an unforgettable family saga of complicity and resistance, about the stories we share, the ones that remain unspoken, and the eternal search for home.

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of ten characters as they move around the world and struggle to maintain solidarity and cultural traditions. While the multiple viewpoints might be challenging for some readers, Oza’s storytelling shines through in this sweeping historical novel. 5 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

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