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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It was one of those friendships which quickly came to seem inevitable, and unbreakable. And then in a conversation of less than a minute, it ended.

They come increasingly to check on me, Konrad. My mother’s family name was Fuller. You know what that means. I can’t give them any other reason to think I have divided loyalties. Until the war ends, I’m staying away from all the Westerners in Nagasaki. But only until the war ends. After, after, Konrad, things will be as before.

If you had been in Germany, Joshua, you’d say to your Jewish friends: I’m sorry I can’t hide you in my attic, but come over for dinner when the Nazi government falls.


“Why are you here?”

Yoshi looks up from the fan of cards in his hand.

“I was at home when the sirens started. This is the nearest shelter.”

At Konrad’s raised eyebrow he adds, “I know. I’ve been going to the school house’s shelter these last few weeks. But with this New Bomb . . . I didn’t want to risk the extra minutes out in the open.”

“So there are risks in the world greater than being associated with a German? That’s comforting. What New Bomb?”

Yoshi puts down his cards.

“You haven’t heard? About Hiroshima? Three days ago?”

“Three days? No one’s spoken to me in three days.”

In the shelter at Urakami, Hiroko is packed in so tightly between her neighbours she cannot even raise a hand to wipe the sweat damping her hairline. It hasn’t been so crowded in here since the early days of the air- raid sirens. What could have provoked the Chairman of the Neighbourhood Association into such a frenzy about rounding up everyone in his path and ordering them to the shelter? She exhales through her mouth and turns her head slightly towards the Chairman’s wife, who responds by turning quickly away from Hiroko. It is impossible to know if this is guilt or disdain.

The Chairman’s wife had been a close friend of Hiroko’s mother - she recalls the two of them giggling together over the newest edition of Sutairu, in the days before war brought an end to the magazine: no place in war time Japan for a publication that advised women on the etiquette of wearing underwear with Western dresses. As she was dying, Hiroko’s mother had called the Chairman’s wife to her bedside with a single request: protect my husband against himself. There was even less place in war time Japan for an iconoclastic artist than for magazines about modern girls. For a long time, the Chairman’s wife had carried out her promise, persuading her husband to regard Matsui Tanaka’s outbursts against the military and the Emperor as a symbol of a husband’s mourning that was so profound it had unhinged him. But in the spring, Matsui Tanaka had been walking past a neighbourhood house and saw the cherry blossom festooning it to commemorate the sacrifice of the fifteen- year- old boy who had died in a kamikaze attack. Without saying a word to Hiroko who was walking silently beside him Matsui Tanaka darted forward, pulling out a book of matches from the pocket of his trousers, and set fire to the cherry blossom.

Seconds later he lay bloodied on the ground, the dead boy’s father struggling against the neighbourhood men who had finally decided to restrain him, and Hiroko, bending down over her father, found herself pulled up by the Chairman’s wife.

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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