Summary and book reviews of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Burnt Shadows

A Novel

By Kamila Shamsie

Burnt Shadows
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  • Paperback: Apr 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

Hiroko Tanaka is twenty-one and in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. As she steps onto her veranda, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, her world is suddenly and irrevocably altered. In the numbing aftermath of the atomic 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, two years later, Hiroko travels to Delhi. It is there that her life will become intertwined with that of Konrad's half sister, Elizabeth, her husband, James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu.

With the partition of India, and the creation of Pakistan, Hiroko will find herself displaced once again, in a world where old wars are replaced by new conflicts. But the shadows of history--personal and political--are cast over the interrelated worlds of the Burtons, the 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 these families together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

P R O L O G U E

Once he is in the cell they unshackle him and instruct him to strip. He takes off the grey winter coat with brisk efficiency and then - as they watch, arms folded - his movements slow, fear turning his fingers clumsy on belt buckle, shirt buttons.

They wait until he is completely naked before they gather up his clothes and leave. When he is dressed again, he suspects, he will be wearing an orange jumpsuit.

The cold gleam of the steel bench makes his body shrivel. As long as it’s possible, he’ll stand.

How did it come to this, he wonders.

The Yet Unknowing World

nagasaki, 9 august 1945

Later, the one who survives will remember that day as grey, but on the morning of 9 August itself both the man from Berlin, Konrad Weiss, and the schoolteacher, Hiroko Tanaka, step out of their houses and notice the perfect blueness of the sky, into which white smoke blooms from the chimneys of the munitions factories.

Konrad cannot see the ...

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About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Burnt Shadows are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Burnt Shadows.


About this Book

Burnt Shadows
begins begins in Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and ends shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In between, the characters are tossed upon the swells of a turbulent half-century, their lives touched by the partition of India, the nuclear arms race, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

16 BookBrowse members read Burnt Shadows for "First Impressions" giving it very favorable reviews. Read the reviews.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Anita Desai
Burnt Shadows is audacious in its ambition, epic in its scope. A startling expansion of the author's intentions, imagination and craftsmanship. One can only admire the huge advances she has made, and helped us to make, in understanding the new global tensions.

Author Blurb Mohsin Hamid
The most ambitious novel yet by this talented writer. In Burnt Shadows, Kamila Samsie casts her imagination remarkably far and wide, through time and across continents.

Author Blurb Nadeem Aslam, author of Maps for Lost Lovers
Kamila Shamsie opens a vista onto the century we have just lived through--pointing out its terror and its solace. She is so extraordinary a writer that she also offers hints about the century we are living through--the dark corners that contain challenges, as well as the paths that lead to beauty's lair.

Author Blurb Salman Rushdie
Kamila Shamsie is a writer of immense ambition and strength. She understands a great deal about the ways in which the world's many tragedies and histories shape one another, and about how human beings can try to avoid being crushed by their fate and can discover their humanity, even in the fiercest combat zones of the age. Burnt Shadows is an absorbing novel that commands, in the reader, a powerful emotional and intellectual response.

The Asian Review of Books - Peter Gordon

Burnt Shadows, whose core relationship is between a Japanese woman and Muslim Indian, is a still rare attempt, whether deliberate or not, at a pan-Asian novel....

The intimate tone and detailed, almost painterly descriptions of the first sections are missed in the second half, where a decade might pass between chapters.

....while novels all too often seem to be one hundred or so pages too long, the opposite is true here: one wishes this book had been rather longer.

The Daily Telegraph - Charlotte Moore

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.

The Financial Times - Angel Gurria-Quintana

Some novels are so intensely charged with emotion and beauty that the reader, emerging reluctantly from the last pages, feels flayed – as if a layer of skin has been delicately stripped off. Kamila Shamsie’s fifth book, Burnt Shadows, is one such rarity. ... Yet the merit of this formidable arching tale about loss and foreignness is entirely Shamsie's. Her achievement is tremendous.

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?

The Scotsman - Tom Adair

All fiction is travel. Kamila Shamsie transports you instantly, dramatically, often brilliantly.

Library Journal

An engrossing story of resilience and humanity in the face of crushing tragedy...this critically acclaimed Pakistani author, who writes in English, is a powerful storyteller who deserves a wider U.S. audience.

Kirkus Reviews

With a rare combination of skill and sensitivity, Shamsie generates pathos for outsiders and the displaced.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shamsie's unsparing look at how individuals respond when war affects their world makes for an intriguing, heartrending tale of human connection.

The Guardian - Maya Jaggi

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.

Reader Reviews
Trezeline

Burnt Shadows
Kamila Shamsie covers three generations of two families in 365 pages. The language she uses is beautiful. At times I could imagine I was in the scene she was describing. Although at times the story gets a bit tedious, over all the continuing ...   Read More

Dorothy

Burnt Shadows - a book you shouldn't miss
Kamila Shamsie has written an incredible book in Burnt Shadows. Beginning just before the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and leaving you (I didn't feel that it ended because this is a book that stays with you) in the aftermath of 9-11, she ...   Read More

Kathleen

Burnt Shadows Review
This is an incredible book. It is beautifully written and complex. I can’t seem to stop thinking about the characters. My only complaint is that it may be too complex or ambitious for one book. When the scene shifted to New York, I felt like I ...   Read More

Susan

A Great Book Club Read
I will recommend this book to my book club which read The Kite Runner last year. This is a sad, moving, intense, sweeping novel, with themes of connection and loss, trust and treason. The author's vivid descriptions carried me to Nagasaki, India, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Five Notable Pakistani Authors
While Indian authors have been the darlings of the literary world for the past couple of decades, Pakistani novelists writing in English have remained in the shadows -- but no longer. Even as their country sinks into violence, a growing number of novelists are winning acclaim around the world. Here are five Pakistani authors to watch out for:

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Pakistan. Her first novel, In the City by the Sea, was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and her second, Salt and Saffron, won her a place on Orange's list of '21 Writers for the 21st Century'. In 1999 Kamila received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan. She has a ...

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