Burnt Shadows

Burnt Shadows

  • Hardback
By (author) Kamila Shamsie

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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. Sweeping in its scope and mesmerising in its evocation of time and place, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of disasters evaded and confronted, loyalties offered and repaid, and loves rewarded and betrayed.

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  • Hardback | 384 pages
  • 02 Mar 2009
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London
  • 0747597073
  • 9780747597070
  • 623,883

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Author Information

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Pakistan. She is the author of four previous novels: In the City by the Sea, Kartography (both shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Salt and Saffron and Broken Verses. In 1999 she received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature and in 2004 the Patras Bokhari Award - both awarded by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. Kamila Shamsie lives in London.

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Review quote

'An absorbing novel that commands, in the reader, a powerful emotional and intellectual response Kamila Shamsie is a writer of immense strength' - Salman Rushdie 'A brilliant book she is so extraordinary a writer' - Nadeem Aslam 'I feel that I have travelled the world and spent the past six decades with Hiroko and her family. Burnt Shadows is a beautiful, beautiful book' - Tahmima Anam 'Audacious in its ambition, epic in its scope. One can only admire the huge advances she has made, and helped us to make, in understanding the new global tensions' - Anita Desai

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Review text

An epic tale of two families whose lives are intertwined by conflict.As a young woman, Hiroko Tanaka survives the bombing of Nagasaki, which takes the life of her first love, German-born Konrad Weiss. Physically and mentally scarred, Hiroko flees to Konrad's sister Elizabeth, who lives with her English husband James Burton in Delhi. Sajjad Ashraf, who frequents the Burton household, gives Urdu lessons to Hiroko, and they fall in love. But arranged marriages are traditional in his Muslim family, so the couple elopes and flees to Istanbul. Later, after Partition ends Sajjad's hopes of returning to Delhi, they move to Karachi. There Hiroko bears a son, Raza, who grows into a precocious youth with a passion for languages. With the appearance at their door of James and Elizabeth's son Harry, the lines of the two families cross once more. Raza flubs a final exam and deviates from his college-bound path to befriend a young Afghani smuggler, with whom he attempts to join the mujahideen. Shamsie (Broken Verses, 2005, etc.) builds vivid contemporary scenes on a rich and sometimes sordid history; the modern characters' struggles attain tragic, even mythic resonance as parents' ordeals are visited on their children. Wit, formidable imagination and intricate, well-worked characterizations distinguish the twisty narrative. Raza experiences mixed emotions as he travels through the blasted hinterlands with Afghani arms smugglers. In a world fraught with duplicity and inside deals among militant tribesmen, military contractors and CIA operatives, he learns that morality is anything but straightforward. But the struggles of zealots and mercenaries are dwarfed by Hiroko's titanic journey. Having survived and suffered so much, she finds herself sitting with a crossword puzzle in a West Village bistro, contemplating the grand and hellish pattern of her loved ones' lives as she considers with horror the threat of nuclear proliferation between India and Pakistan.With a rare combination of skill and sensitivity, Shamsie generates pathos for outsiders and the displaced. (Kirkus Reviews)

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