Burnt Shadows

Kamila Shamsie

Burnt Shadows

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this? he wonders August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad's half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history - personal, political - are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences. 3.8 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
Burnt Shadows

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 384
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication March 2009
ISBN 978-0747597070
Publisher Bloomsbury
 

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this? he wonders August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad's half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history - personal, political - are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, 2009.

Reviews

The Independent on Sunday

Charlie Lee Potter

The grasp of language, the subtlety of expression and the sheer mastery of international politics are all impressive. And so, too, are the details: family loyalties, national allegiances, betrayals, the sometimes misguided desire we have to protect our children from the truth.

12/04/2009

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Ángel Gurría-Quintana

Has such a sad story ever been told so beautifully?... The novel’s early sections bear traces of Michael Ondaatje’s prose, for instance in Hiroko’s “search for a word in any of four languages to describe the pleasure of sliding rainwater off a leaf into Sajjad’s belly button and then curling her tongue into the dip”. Yet the merit of this formidable arching tale about loss and foreignness is entirely Shamsie’s. Her achievement is tremendous.

16/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Maya Jaggi

...Shamsie's voice is clear and compelling, with a welcome spareness, free of the sometimes cloying archness of earlier books... Any reader anticipating a predictable yarn about the radicalisation of Islamist youth may feel cheated. Far more, I suspect, will feel challenged and enlightened, possibly provoked, and undoubtedly enriched.

07/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Independent

Salil Tripathi

Shamsie's challenge is to build the architecture through strong characters without letting the burden of history crush the structure. In Hiroko, she has created just such a character. Some of the minor characters aren't always capable of bearing that burden. They remain true to the message Shamsie conveys – of the common humanity of our interwoven lives. But the pace compresses them. Shamsie has squeezed a violent century's universe into a ball, and rolled it forward with an overwhelming question: Why?

13/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Lucy Atkins

The early parts of the book are engaging. However, this initial impetus slows up a bit... character development remains a little flat... A book of this size and range requires a hefty emotional commitment, but this is hard to sustain without the grounding of some deep, evolving internal world. Occasional touches of whimsy do not help. Still, Burnt Shadows is not to be sniffed at. This is a bold and timely novel and it will appeal to readers who want their fiction to make them think.

22/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Literary Review

Amanda Craig

...she is especially good at portraying the feelings of a young Muslim boy and the intertwining nature of personal and political life in Pakistan, and she understands both social snobbery and ethnic hatred. However, Burnt Shadows does not fully satisfy as a work of art... You need a very strong narrative engine to really link such disparate cultures in a work of fiction... but if the novel’s weakness is due to the unusual cultural mixture of its characters, so too are its considerable strengths.

01/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Observer

Rachel Aspden

Burnt Shadows is dense with history and principle, often at the expense of lightness of touch. Shamsie's prose is highly stylised - "Optimism. That was Sajjad's gift. She opened her mouth to breathe it in" - and her minor characters in particular can appear little more than ciphers... When the novel shakes off its didactic tendencies, the results are moving snapshots of its characters' lost worlds.

22/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Charlotte Moore

I read it with admiration for her historical imagination, but with curiously little sense of involvement. Shamsie’s ambitions tend to crush the life out of her characters... Shamsie’s attempt to explain political upheaval through interlocking lives is broad-minded, clear-sighted, even valiant. She over-reaches, but the book deserves to be read.

03/03/2009

Read Full Review


The Times

Christina Koning

Shamsie is so busy trying to cover all the angles of her plot that she forgets to let her characters breathe: they come across as two-dimensional representations of conflicting views... While the author deserves credit for tackling terrorism and its causes, one cannot help wishing that she had done so on a smaller scale, more suited to her not inconsiderable abilities, instead of going for the wide-screen approach.

19/02/2009

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore