Book Review: Burnt Shadows!

I love reading books! Or  I would say I loved the idea of reading so many books at a time. Because of my love for books I have read the works of many novelists including the Pakistani writers as well.

Pakistani authors have a different way of seeing things or perhaps the story has a personalized touch which attracts the fellow people in the country. While reading I come across many authors and each have different style of narrating stories. One of them is Kamila Shamsie.

Kamila Shamsie: Fifth Novel Burnt Shamsie: Photo Online

Kamila Shamsie: Fifth Novel Burnt Shamsie: Photo Online

I get to know Shamsie through her novel ‘Burnt Shadows’. Published in 2009, the novel unravels the atrocities of war through the eyes of Hiroko Tanka,  first seen in Nagasaki in August 1945 as a young schoolteacher turned munitions factory worker whose artist father is branded a traitor for his outbursts against the emperor and kamikaze militarism. The novel narrates the repercussions of the war on the lives of the victims.The war that started first from Nagasaki to the bloodied partition of sub-continent in 1947 to Soviet war in Afghanistan to the incident of Sep 9/11.

Hiroko falls in love with idealist from Berlin, Konrad Weiss, with whom she shares – along with other key characters – a love of languages. On August 9, 1945 the love evaporates when Nagasaki happened leaving behind ‘burnt shadow’ of Konrad whereas Hiroko survives. Hiroko carried her scars and her survivor’s guilt to Delhi, in search of Konrad’s sister Elizabeth, the discontent wife of James Burton, an English colonialist. There Hiroko falls in love with Muslim servant Sajjad. During partition of 1947, the Burtons send Hiroko and Sajjad to Istanbul to avoid the dangers of partition, only to find that this makes Sajjad stateless; he can never return to his beloved “Dilli”. He and Hiroko settle in Karachi, where they bring up their son Raza, only son who belongs everywhere and nowhere. When Raza gets involved with the Mujahideen, the fallout has been devastating.

While reading the book from cover to cover, the author engages the readers through her riveting account of the events for instance in one of her writing the author tries to explain the little corner (read: victims) of the big picture (read: war). Similarly Shamsie narrates about the dark shadows of war where she has compared the victims of the war with the operators of the war. According to her, they are victims not by choice but only they have survived and they are forced to adjust their lives in new surroundings. Meanwhile those who have powers to drop bombs (read: operators) can wipe out cities, draw out borders between people to create new nations, prefer to play with the religious sentiment by using ‘Jihad’ to fulfill their own agenda in Soviet-led war and destroy countries in the name of September 9/11 attack to sustain their power. These so-called powers are ruthless because they see individuals in dehumanized form. Sadly the decisions made by these so-called ‘powerful’ tear apart countless innocent lives

Shamsie’s attempt to explain political mayhem through interlinking lives is broad-minded, clear-sighted, and even courageous. She also received international acclamation for her novel. She was awarded the 2010 Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize for her novel Burnt Shadows and was also a nominee of Orange Prize 2009.

She overreaches, but the novel deserves to be read once in a lifetime.

Happy Reading 🙂


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