Burnt Shadows

( 8 )


Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

An Orange Prize Finalist

Nagasaki, August 9, 1945. Hiroko Tanaka watches her lover from the veranda as he leaves. Sunlight streams across Urakami Valley, and then the world goes white.

In the devastating aftermath of the atomic bomb, Hiroko leaves Japan in search of new beginnings. From Delhi, amid India's cry for independence from British colonial rule, to New York City...

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Burnt Shadows

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Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

An Orange Prize Finalist

Nagasaki, August 9, 1945. Hiroko Tanaka watches her lover from the veranda as he leaves. Sunlight streams across Urakami Valley, and then the world goes white.

In the devastating aftermath of the atomic bomb, Hiroko leaves Japan in search of new beginnings. From Delhi, amid India's cry for independence from British colonial rule, to New York City in the immediate wake of 9/11, to the novel's astonishing climax in Afghanistan, a violent history casts its shadow the entire world over. Sweeping in its scope and mesmerizing in its evocation of time and place, this is a tale of love and war, of three generations, and three world-changing historic events. Burnt Shadows is a story for our time by "a writer of immense ambition and strength. . . . This is an absorbing novel that commands in the reader a powerful emotional and intellectual response" (Salman Rushdie).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Burnt Shadows is one of the most remarkable novels I have read in recent years — a tour de force of vision, sympathy, language. Kamila Shamsie's subject is brilliantly timely in our era or 'globalization'—at the same time a riveting family saga in which the very concept 'family' is ambitiously and imaginatively examined."—Joyce Carol Oates

"Completely authentic, complex, and breath-stopping."—Emma Thompson

"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."—Mohsin Hamid

"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."—Salman Rushdie

"Ambitious . . . Shamsie's deft touch . . . delicately builds the momentums of everyday life against the insidiously political situation of the time. . . . A tribute to Shamsie's skills." —Chicago Sun-Times

"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."—Anita Desai

"One of the finest writers at work anywhere, period . . . A great, absorbing novel, one that will be with us a long time."—Rick Simonson, Elliot Bay Book Company

"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."—Nadeem Aslam, author of Maps for Lost Lovers

Publishers Weekly

Shamsie takes readers on a tour de force in this examination of the impact of war, following a trajectory from the devastation of Nagasaki in WWII through the conflict-ridden formation of Pakistan in the late 1940s to post-9/11 Manhattan and war-torn Afghanistan. Konrad Weiss, living in Nagasaki in the summer of 1945, hires a local woman, Hiroko Tanaka, to help him write a book about the city. The romance that blossoms is cut short when the atom bomb falls, killing Konrad, and after a while, Hiroko, feeling she can no longer stay in her country, travels to India to find Konrad's sister, Ilse, the wife of a British lawyer enjoying the privileges of the British raj's final days. From there, Shamsie brilliantly interweaves the lives of an array of characters as she brings the story forward to the 1980s, then to the beginning of the 21st century, exploring the clashes between loyalty to family, homeland and cause. Shamsie's unsparing look at how individuals respond when war affects their world makes for an intriguing, heartrending tale of human connection. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

An engrossing story of resilience and humanity in the face of crushing tragedy, Shamsie's (Salt and Saffron) fifth novel follows the interconnected lives of two families brought together in Nagasaki near the end of World War II. Their fates are linked for 60 years through several countries and ultimately to a somewhat paranoid New York following 9/11. The allusion to recent historical events is not simply an overt device on which to hang a particular political viewpoint; these events are integral to the personal narratives presented here. Shamsie explores the meanings of cultural identity through characters who endure sacrifice, betrayal, and human-made disaster as they live and work in countries foreign to them. This critically acclaimed Pakistani author, who writes in English, is a powerful storyteller who deserves a wider U.S. audience. Readers who appreciate the cross-cultural scope and insight into global tensions in the works of Khaled Hosseini and Salman Rushdie will thoroughly enjoy this novel. Highly recommended.
—Gwen Vredevoogd

Kirkus Reviews
An epic tale of two families whose lives are intertwined by conflict. As a young woman, Hiroko Tanaka survives the bombing of Nagasaki, which takes the life of her first love, German-born Konrad Weiss. Physically and mentally scarred, Hiroko flees to Konrad's sister Elizabeth, who lives with her English husband James Burton in Delhi. Sajjad Ashraf, who frequents the Burton household, gives Urdu lessons to Hiroko, and they fall in love. But arranged marriages are traditional in his Muslim family, so the couple elopes and flees to Istanbul. Later, after Partition ends Sajjad's hopes of returning to Delhi, they move to Karachi. There Hiroko bears a son, Raza, who grows into a precocious youth with a passion for languages. With the appearance at their door of James and Elizabeth's son Harry, the lines of the two families cross once more. Raza flubs a final exam and deviates from his college-bound path to befriend a young Afghani smuggler, with whom he attempts to join the mujahideen. Shamsie (Broken Verses, 2005, etc.) builds vivid contemporary scenes on a rich and sometimes sordid history; the modern characters' struggles attain tragic, even mythic resonance as parents' ordeals are visited on their children. Wit, formidable imagination and intricate, well-worked characterizations distinguish the twisty narrative. Raza experiences mixed emotions as he travels through the blasted hinterlands with Afghani arms smugglers. In a world fraught with duplicity and inside deals among militant tribesmen, military contractors and CIA operatives, he learns that morality is anything but straightforward. But the struggles of zealots and mercenaries are dwarfed by Hiroko's titanic journey. Having survivedand suffered so much, she finds herself sitting with a crossword puzzle in a West Village bistro, contemplating the grand and hellish pattern of her loved ones' lives as she considers with horror the threat of nuclear proliferation between India and Pakistan. With a rare combination of skill and sensitivity, Shamsie generates pathos for outsiders and the displaced. Agent: Victoria Hobbs/A.M. Heath
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312551872
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 4/27/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 382,430
  • Product dimensions: 8.22 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Kamila Shamsie

KAMILA SHAMSIE was born in 1973 in Karachi. She has studied and taught in the USA. Two of her previous novels, Kartography and Broken Verses, have won awards from Pakistan's Academey of Letters. She writes for The Guardian (UK) and frequently broadcasts on the BBC.

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Read an Excerpt

Burnt Shadows

The Yet Unknowing World


... a time to recollect every shadow, everything the earth was losing, a time to think of everything the earth and I had lost, of all that I would lose, of all that I was losing.


—AGHA SHAHID ALI, A Nostalgist's Map of America




In past wars only homes burnt, but this time Don't be surprised if even loneliness ignites. In past wars only bodies burnt, but this time Don't be surprised if even shadows ignite.



BURNT SHADOWS © 2009 by Kamila Shamsie.

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Table of Contents


The Yet Unknowing World: Nagasaki, 9 August 1945

Veiled Birds: Delhi, 1947

Part- Angel Warriors: Pakistan, 19823

The Speed Necessary to Replace Loss: New York, Afghanistan, 20012

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Reading Group Guide

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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013


    Sleeps in his den

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2012

    Beautiful book

    Loved the writing, the story line, the author is an artist. Quite an enjoyable read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2011

    Fascinating but too long

    Truly interesting but would perhaps have worked better as a trilogy. Very meaningful but the ending left me slightly unsatidfied. I did learn a lot about global issues that unite and separate us. Very thought provoking.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A compelling story that carries us through history through the eyes of one woman.

    This story follows Hiroko through her life. The story starts in Japan during WWII and ends in 2002. We follow Hiroko as she loves, loses, and ages. While the events in history play second to the story there are many things that Hiroko deals with: the bombing in Nagasaki, the split of India and Pakistan, 9/11. The characters are well rounded, and as the story jumps from one to the other we really get a sense of who these people are and what emotions they are dealing with. I became connected to just about all of the characters.

    The story is well written, the descriptions were a bit much in some places, but the pictures that Shamsie is able to paint with words are breathtaking. Her use of reacurring themes makes the story really go full circle. Her ability to take monumental events in history and make them the basis of Hiroko's life, without making the story simply about the history is a feat.

    A good read. There were parts that read a little slow, but there weren't many and the story is compelling enough to pull you through them.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2009

    Burnt Shadows

    Truly great novels stay with you long after the final page is turned, and they also give the reader a new perspective. "Burnt Shadows" is one of those novels; it is lingering and emotionally stirring. The novel opens in Nagasaki, Japan with Hiroko Tanaka and traces her journey to India following the bomb. Her story intertwines with those of three other families into a complex and fascinating web of culture and history.

    This is a sweeping novel that takes us from Nagasaki to the United States and Afghanistan in 2001. In spite of the multiple settings, time periods and themes, the novel never gets bogged down; it is paced perfectly. The author takes the multiple threads from the entire novel and weaves them together into a suspenseful crescendo. The ending of the novel is both shocking and incredibly thought- provoking.

    This author is truly a great storyteller, who uses beautiful language and rich symbolism in just the right balance. A highly recommended book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2010

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