If I were to forced to use only one word to describe Child of Dandelions, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Sabine’s journey is one that interweaves politics, mysticism, friendship, courage, and hope into one story that spans the 90 day expulsion of all Asians (read: Indian/Pakistanis) from Uganda. Sabine is an Ugandan citizen through and through, as she keeps reminding her nervous mother during those trying three months. Even though she is of Indian descent, Sabine has no desire to leave the country she loves, instead being forced to endure hardships and betrayals, from her Uncle’s disappearance to the dissolution of her friendship with Zena, who is of African descent. This heartbreakingly optimistic young girl experiences the animosity amongst different ethnicities and social classes.
On August 4, 1972 the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, began the “count down monster” that haunts her everyday life for the next 90 days. Though the motivation is still unclear, supporters of Amin state that he had a dream in which God told him to expel them. President Amin defended this purge by stating that he was giving Uganda back to ethnic Ugandans:
“We are determined to make the ordinary Ugandan master of his own destiny, and above all to see that he enjoys the wealth of his country. Our deliberate policy is to transfer the economic control of Uganda into the hands of Ugandans, for the first time in our country’s history.”
– Idi Amin, Uganda: A Modern History
“They call us Jews. I tell you, we’re far too successful for our safety” — Lalita (from Child of Dandelions)
Asians in Uganda were constantly stereotyped as greedy and conniving, of having esteemed jobs in banking or trading, and of replacing the whites when the British had left. With this resentment deep within the hearts of African Ugandans, supporters were everywhere. Yet, Indians weren’t the only ones to get prosecuted, Ugandans from the Langi and Acholi tribes were also killed.
Though Child of Dandelions takes place during a period of violence and hate, Sabine’s story manages to end with a new beginning.
Born in 1954 in Kenya, and constantly visiting family that lived in Uganda, Shenaaz Nanji experienced first hand the reign of Amin. Having been turned into a refugee, Nanji moved to the United States before moving to her current home in Canada. Nanji writes in the language of a 15-year old girl born amongst the fusion of different cultures. By sprinkling Hindi and Swahili words within each page, Nanji demonstrates further the different worlds Sabine straddles.
As I do for all books that concern other cultures/countries than our own, curious reader, I highly recommend this for your next read. Though carry a packet of tissues when you do.