Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Burnt Shadows | Kamila Shamsie

This book is a bit weird, not in style but in scope. And although the structure holds together I wonder if Shamsie was trying to tackle too many good ideas in one book.

It starts on the day the Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, 9 August 1945. Hiroko is a young woman in love with Konrad, a German living in the city. He dies, she moves to India to meet his sister who has married a British lawyer in Dilli. This move happens months before Partition and the formation of Pakistan. Hiroko marries an Indian and then moves to Pakistan. In all this the story has a lot to say about race relations, religious differences and the development of modern society through tragedy, displacement, invasions and nationality. 
Hiroko has a son who feels like a misfit and with his gifting in languages becomes embroiled in the conflicts between Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and America. These strands all pull together through the character of Hiroko and her relationships with the other main characters. She moves to New York and then 9/11 happens....As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to comment on conflict and war, immigrants and  nationality. 

I kept asking myself if it was too much but have come to the conclusion that the strength of the characters encourages us to keep being engaged with the themes. 
As a matter of interest, the burnt shadows of the title are the shadows one can see now on walls in Nagasaki and Hiroshima which are all that is left of people. They were totally consumed by the Nuclear Bombs and as the shock wave passed through them it imprinted their shadow on what was behind them. I have seen them in Hiroshima and it is the most startling and moving memorial I have ever seen. Shadows that show us the utter barbarity of war. This is Shamsie's fifth novel. She is one of Pakistan's most famous authors.

Burnt Shadows
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