Burnt Shadows

Burnt Shadows

3.3 8
by Kamila Shamsie

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Beginning on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, and ending in a prison cell in the US in 2002, as a man is waiting to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of love and betrayal.  See more details below


Beginning on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, and ending in a prison cell in the US in 2002, as a man is waiting to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of love and betrayal.

Editorial Reviews

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)

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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
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

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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.

Meet the Author

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi, where she grew up. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While at the University of Massachusetts she wrote In The City By The Sea, published by Granta Books UK in 1998. This first novel was shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys Award in the UK, and Shamsie received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan in 1999. Her 2000 novel Salt and Saffron led to Shamsie’s selection as one of Orange's “21 Writers of the 21st Century.” With her third novel, Kartography, Shamsie was again shortlisted for the John Llewelyn Rhys award in the UK. Both Kartography and her next novel, Broken Verses, won the Patras Bokhari Award from the Academy of Letters in Pakistan. Burnt Shadows, Shamsie’s fifth novel, has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her books have been translated into a number of languages.

Shamsie is the daughter of literary critic and writer Muneeza Shamsie, the niece of celebrated Indian novelist Attia Hosain, and the granddaughter of the memoirist Begum Jahanara Habibullah. A reviewer and columnist, primarily for the Guardian, Shamsie has been a judge for several literary awards including The Orange Award for New Writing and The Guardian First Book Award. She also sits on the advisory board of the Index on Censorship.

For years Shamsie spent equal amounts of time in London and Karachi, while also occasionally teaching creative writing at Hamilton College in New York State. She now lives primarily in London.

Of the themes in Burnt Shadows, Shamsie says, “There are a number of interconnected ideas in the book that are of interest to me but I suppose if I had to pin it down I'd say I'm exploring what happens at different intersections of personal lives and the force of history — how do people survive living through cataclysmic events? How do relationships survive it? Why is it that some relationships do survive and others don't?”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Burnt Shadows 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the writing, the story line, the author is an artist. Quite an enjoyable read.
Megan Koon More than 1 year ago
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.
Jennmarie68 More than 1 year ago
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.
Litfan More than 1 year ago
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.