Excerpt from Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Burnt Shadows

A Novel

By Kamila Shamsie

Burnt Shadows
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  • Paperback: Apr 2009,
    384 pages.

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Weeks later, he accused her, laughingly, of driving up her price by playing on his guilt. Well, of course, she said, with characteristic frankness; scruples and starvation don’t go well together. Then she spread her arms wide and scrunched her eyes shut as though concentrating hard on conjuring up another world: When the war’s over, I’ll be kind. Opening her eyes, she added quietly, Like my mother. He couldn’t help thinking her mother would never have approved of starting up a romance with a German, or even walking alone with him through the hills of Nagasaki. It discomforted him to know his happiness was linked to the death of her mother, but then she took his hand and he doubted that anyone, even a revered mother, could have told Hiroko Tanaka what to do. Why should rules of conduct be the only things untouched by war, she once asked him? Everything from the past is passed.

Kicking the air- raid hood on the ground before him he enters the capacious shelter built into the slope of Azalea Manor’s garden. The air musty and tinged with bitterness. Here, the deck of cards with which he and Yoshi Watanabe and Keiko Kagawa kept each other distracted, particularly useful during the early days of the air-raid sirens when there was more terror than boredom associated with the warnings; here, the oak chair from which Kagawa- san surveyed the behaviour of his neighbours and family and staff during those rare occasions when the air- raid sirens found him still at home; here, the hopscotch squares which Konrad had drawn in the dust for the younger Kagawa children; here, the hidden bottle of sake which the cook thought no one else knew about; here, the other hidden bottle of sake which the teenage Kagawas came in search of late at night when the shelter was empty. They knew Konrad could see them from his caretaker’s house, but while their parents might still be uneasy after seven years about quite how to negotiate their relationship with the landlord who folded his lanky frame into the tiny house at the bottom of the garden the younger Kagawas knew him as an ally and would have happily welcomed him into their drinking parties if he had shown any inclination to join them.

Now all the Kagawas cross over to the other side of the road if they see him walking towards them. One round of questioning by the military police about the suspect loyalties of their landlord was all it had taken to move them out of Azalea Manor.

Konrad sits on Kagawa-san’s oak chair, bouncing his air-raid hood on his knee. He is so immersed in what was that it takes him a moment to realise that the figure which appears in the entrance to the shelter, hood in hand, exists in present tense. It is Yoshi Watanabe. As if asking for permission to enter a private party, Yoshi says, in English, “May I come in? I’ll understand if you say no.”

Konrad doesn’t respond, but as Yoshi mutters a word of apology and starts to walk away, Konrad calls out, “Don’t be an idiot, Joshua. How’d you think I’d feel if a bomb landed on you?”

Yoshi steps inside, looping his spectacles over his ears and blinking rapidly.

“I’m not sure.”

Picking up the deck of cards, he kneels on the ground, shuffling the cards and then dealing ten each to himself and the empty space across from him.

Yoshi Watanabe is the “Jap” whose telegrams James Burton had referred to when packing Konrad off to Nagasaki. His grandfather, Peter Fuller of Shropshire, had been George Burton’s closest friend and neighbour. When Konrad arrived in Nagasaki it was Yoshi who was waiting at the harbour to welcome him, Yoshi who showed him around Azalea Manor, Yoshi who found him a Japanese tutor, Yoshi who produced the Kagawas as though they were a bouquet of flowers hiding within his sleeve within hours of hearing Konrad say he’d be far more comfortable living in the cosiness of the caretaker’s house, Yoshi who regaled him with stories of Nagasaki’s turn-of-the-century cosmopolitan world, unique in Japan - its English - language newspapers, its International Club, its liaisons and intermarriages between European men and Japanese women. And when Konrad said he needed someone to translate Japanese letters for the book he was planning to write about the cosmopolitan world, it was Yoshi who had introduced him to his nephew’s German teacher, Hiroko Tanaka.

Excerpted from Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. Copyright © 2009 by Kamila Shamsie. Excerpted by permission of Picador, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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