Burnt Shadows

Burnt Shadows

eBook - 2009
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Hiroko steps out onto the veranda. Her body from neck down a silk column, white with three black cranes swooping across her back. She looks out towards the mountains, and everything is more beautiful to her than it was early this morning. Nagasaki is more beautiful to her than ever before. She turns her head and sees the spires of Urakami Cathedral, which Konrad is looking up at when he notices a gap open between the clouds. Sunlight streams through, pushing the clouds apart even further.


And then the world goes white.

--From Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

The morning of August 9, 1945 breaks dreary and unspectacular in the city of Nagasaki. Nonetheless, twenty-one year-old Hiroko Tanaka is elated: she is in love. Her emerging romance with the displaced German Konrad Weiss offers release from the greyness of wartime deprivation. In this time of heightened xenophobia, their affair must be kept secret, particularly as Hiroko's father has recently been outcast for questioning the patriotism of sending children on kamikaze missions. As Hiroko and Konrad furtively plan for a future after the war, there is no way they can comprehend the unspeakable devastation bearing down upon them.

Two years later, Hiroko arrives in Delhi at the home of Konrad's sister Ilse and his brother-in-law James Burton. Upon Hiroko's back are crane-shaped scars, seared into her skin when her kimono was incinerated by the bomb. She is on the run from unbearable memories, as well as from the stigma of being branded a hibakusha , a survivor of the bomb. Ilse, in an uncharacteristically impulsive move, welcomes Hiroko into her home, seeing in the brave young woman a possibility of release from her own conscripted existence. Hiroko quickly destabilizes the frigid hierarchy of the household, much to the relief of Sajjad Ashraf, James's bored servant.

Tensions are running high in the Mohalla with the looming partition of India and Pakistan. Will Sajjad remain in his beloved Dilli/Delhi, or depart with so many others for the promise of Pakistan? Sajjad's family has secured for him a wife, and he yearns for a legal career, still half-clinging to the hope that James will assist him. But James's only use for him is as a chess opponent, an idle distraction as the Raj winds to a close. The Burtons are preparing to decamp for England, having already dispatched their son Harry to boarding school. But what James does not know is that Ilse is making other plans.

A romance blooms between Hiroko and Sajjad, much to the incredulity of the Burtons, whose own emotional lives have become entwined in the futures of their charismatic young charges. Despite outbursts of jealousies and a terrible act of betrayal, the Burtons nevertheless assist Hiroko and Sajjad in their flight to married life in Istanbul. Later the Ashrafs will move to Karachi to raise their son, Raza.

The lives of the Ashrafs and the Burtons will remain entwined for decades, though in ways they cannot anticipate. Across continents and through geopolitical flux, each family will continue to act as a catalytic force upon the other, sometimes in life-saving ways, and sometimes causing great peril. Why is it that some bonds flourish in times of crisis, and why do some fail? What defines the character that survives the cruelest of circumstances? And how is it that entire populations can support unspeakable acts en masse, while relating as individuals with compassion?

Longlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows is an enthralling meta-cultural epic, the panoramic tale of two families tangled together in some of the most devastating conflicts of modern history.

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: [Toronto] : Bond Street Books, 2009
ISBN: 9780307373410
Characteristics: 1 online resource

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Jul 31, 2017

A wide-ranging book, from Nagasaki to Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. This is a novel, however, so its focus is on individual people and what these events do to two intertwined families. The writing is delicious, and heartbreaking. Each character grows, or disintegrates, under the pressure of their lives. When the 2nd bomb is dropped, Hiroko watches her father and German fiance die, as the black cranes on her mother's kimono burn themselves onto her back, leaving terrible scars which have no feeling. After throwing herself into three years of chaotic life with Tokyo's GI's, she finally goes to Delhi to find her fiance's sister and brother-in-law. John and Ilse divorce and Ilse moves to NYC, where Hiroko finds restful home with her in old age. John wants to kick her out, but Ilse takes her in, feeling a human need to atone. Hiroko feels useless, but languages come easy to her, so she asks for a tutor in Urdu. Sajjad fall in love with her, they marry, and, after a late miscarriage due to her radiation sickness, she has a son who becomes the focus of her life. He is secretive, and it takes a long time for her to learn that he's a spy for the CIA, recruited by a family member. That doesn't stop Hiroko loving her son Raza, but it increases her fear for him, and "forces" him to lie to her because he loves her. The descriptions are intense and fully rounded, from the land to the training camps to the food to the stench of the slums. The people are just as fully described. A tour de force by a woman born in Pakistan, who has studied and taught in the US, and teaches in the UK. I'll read her other novels as well.

Apr 08, 2013

Ambitious and complex, this is the intersecting story of two families. Shamsie tackles big themes - cultural identity, the impact of war - in a thought-provoking way.

Oct 19, 2010

Rich with detail. An intelligent read. Shamsie successfully allows the reader to become intimately aware of each characters' nuances, culture and background by her ability to turn prose into a multi-layered painting. I loved the book.

quagga Nov 27, 2009

Pakistani-born Shamsie has written an ambitious saga about the entwined lives of two families: the Tanaka-Ashrafs (Japanese and Urdu) and the Weiss-Burtons (German and English). This novel threads together world events, starting in 1945 with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki; moving to Delhi in 1947, with the departure of the British colonists and the partition of Pakistan; then to Afghanistan in 1982-83, where the mujahideen are battling Soviet occupation of their country; ending in New York in 2001-2, after the terrorists attacks that felled the World Trade Towers. An unforgettable, immensely powerful book.

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