Burnt Shadows

Burnt Shadows

by Kamila Shamsie


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312551872
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/27/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 193,637
Product dimensions: 8.22(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

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 Academy of Letters. She writes for The Guardian (UK) and frequently broadcasts on the BBC.

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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.

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

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.

Discussion Questions

1. Early in the novel, Hiroko observes that during the World War II everything has been "distilled or distorted into its most functional form," including a vegetable patch where once Azaleas grew, and she asks, "What prompted this falling-off of love?" Can you find other places in the novel where this idea is expressed? Is there a similarity between the garden and a suicide bomber?

2. How does Hiroko resist being simply Hibakusha, a victim of the bomb, and in what ways is she powerless to change this perception of her? Consider also how it affects her son, Raza. Is it impossible to escape certain legacies?

3. Discuss the different reasons that Konrad, Elizabeth, Sajjad and Harry leave their home in India, and why Hiroko leaves Japan, and then Pakistan. What does it mean to have a home, and to be displaced? How is it different when you don't have a choice to stay? Ultimately, do the characters ever have a country to call their own?

4. Hiroko is immovable in her opinion about the atomic bomb. What does it mean to have a direct and highly personal connection to an earth-changing event like the bombing of Nakasaki, or 9/11? Is it possible for anyone so directly affected by the violence of these events to regard them with historic perspective? How are Kim and Hiroko different from one another in this regard? Consider their conversation about Nagasaki on pgs 294 to295.

5. The characters in Burnt Shadows sometimes find that their ideological beliefs can be vanquished by basic human feelings of love and hate. And sometimes the reverse happens as well. Why are individuals so often in conflict with their ideals, and how does the novel illustrate this conflict?

6. What does Sajjad mean when he says on pg 52 that he wants a "modern wife"? How do the women in Burnt Shadows each express their independence? And in what ways are they still captive to tradition?

7. Why does Elizabeth at first resist Sajjad and Hiroko's affection for one another? Is she just trying to be practical? What is the nature of her resentment and concern?

8. Hiroko, Sajjad, and Raza each have a love of languages. What does it mean to learn another language, and why are languages (and their translation back and forth) important to these characters?

9. Discuss the reasons that Abdullah joins a mujahideen training camp. Why is it tempting to Raza as well? What social pressures and conditions do you think could inspire you to take up arms in a similar fashion, or to become radicalized?

10. Shortly after Sajjad tells Hiroko that "everything about you is beautiful," Elizabeth Burton, reflecting upon the Himalayas, thinks "what a pity beauty could be so meaningless." What does this novel, which begins with the scarring of a woman's back, have to say about beauty and truth?

11. Who, if anyone, is to blame for the death of Sajjad?

12. Is it irresponsible for Harry to send Raza to Afghanistan, given that he had promised Hiroko to keep him safe? Discuss his reasons for sending him, and Raza's reasons for going.

13. Steve is highly suspicious of Raza's past, in particular his early brush with the mujahideen. While Raza is, in truth, largely motivated by personal loyalties, is Steve nonetheless right to be suspicious of him? Is Steve's paranoia a widespread phenomenon in the United States? Globally?

14. The forces of oppression and liberation course through this novel – from the Raj, to the partition of India, to fundamentalist Islam's control of women in Pakistan, to the Patriot Act. Is Burnt Shadows asking what it means to liberate one's self, to be free both personally and politically? Is there a difference? Consider, as well, Elizabeth's flight from her husband, and her life in New York.

15. Discuss Kim Burton's actions at the Canadian border. Would you have done the same thing? How does this act illustrate the larger themes of the novel?

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Burnt Shadows 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
TigsW on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This book certainly had good moments and overall I enjoyed it very much. However, it was uneven. The first section of the book, the part based in Japan, was superb. The second and bigger part based in India was less good but still enjoyable. The third section in New York was fine. The better part of the book focused on the life long challenges an immigrant faces in their new homeland, particularly if their physical appearance is notably different. Wothwhile reading
Justjenniferreading on LibraryThing 6 months 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.
greggchadwick on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Kamila Shamsie's novel "Burnt Shadows" uses a cinemascope vision to portray a Japanese woman's struggle to understand her life in a spinning world where historic forces seem to lead her and her family into an inevitable showdown with fate. Hiroko carries the memories and scars imprinted into her skin from the atomic blast in Nagasaki in 1945 from Japan to India to post-partition Pakistan. Her son Raza carries the memories into a politically charged New York where the events of September 11, 2001 still loom in our headlines. Shamsie deftly leads the reader through the haunted landscapes of the last sixty years and by distilling chilling historical events through the vision of one family her words shed light into the shadows of time. An important work that I highly recommend.
cameling on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Not for a long time have I read a book that plumbs the depth of human frailty, resilience, humility, generosity, kindness, loneliness, true friendship that knows no color, culture or language boundaries and love.This is a story about 2 families and the effect the bombing of Nagasaki, the separation of India and Pakistan, the Afghan Soviet war, and 9/11 have on them through the decades.Starting innocently enough with Hiroko Tanaka, a translator and linguist in Japan having gotten engaged to Konrad Weiss, a German teacher, these 2 individuals see their lives brilliantly ahead of them despite the ominous growlings of WWII. The Nagasaki bomb drops and all is changed.Gently but not so that the horrors of the aftermath of the bomb are glossed over, Hiroko describes staccato scenes of the destruction while recovering from her own injuries (horrible scarring on her back where patches of her kimono have been seared into her skin)in hospital. She is now hibakusha - a term that carries with it all the stigma associated with being a survivor of the A-bomb in Japan.Moving to India, she learns Urdu, builds a bond with her dead fiance's sister, and begins a journey filled with great joy and love, but which is also challenged with pain, betrayal and loss. Her journey takes her to Turkey, Pakistan and America, throughout which she is forced to call upon the very resilience that allowed her to survive and live after that dreadful day in Nagasaki.Hiroko and her family present the sides to the story most often unheard. How do ordinary people who just want to live in peace and who have aspirational dreams find the strength to stay true to their values and continue to see the good in others, even those governments warn against?This is a book about outsiders looking in, trying to find their place in a community, and of trying to belong. This is a book about the the human spirit and optimism. This is a book about living for what is right and not hiding because its an easier way to live. This is a book about despair for ruling governments. This is a book about hope for the world because there are people who make a difference.This review does absolutely no justice whatsoever to the depth of this book, and for that I apologize. But it is a book I would encourage you to read because it will leave a mark on you.
littlebookworm on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Hiroko Tanaka, a young woman living in Nagasaki in World War II, has fallen in love with a German. They know their lives are constantly in danger, but somehow their love has blossomed regardless. On the same day that Konrad proposes, the Americans drop a bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko¿s life changes irrevocably, right down to her skin, on which the birds from her mother¿s kimono have been etched in scars. A few years later, Hiroko finds herself at the home of Konrad¿s sister in India, where new love awaits. Sweeping onwards through to Pakistan and later the United States, this multi-generational work encompasses the depths of the horror of war and the endurance of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable horror and tragedy.I¿m not sure it¿s possible to like this book, although I know I¿ve said I do already. It is almost relentless in the danger and the pain it causes for its main characters, particularly Hiroko. In the beginning, it feels too long and it moves very slowly. While I appreciate the messages the book is trying to convey, it takes a great deal of concentration to get through and it might have benefited from a more concise plot. The writing is gorgeous, but doesn¿t help matters, although it does feel as though we could live in the settings of the book. Each location feels different, as they should given where they are in the world. Hiroko moves from Nagasaki to India to Pakistan to New York City, all of which are beautifully drawn with Shamsie¿s words.It¿s the message that this book has left me with, however, which is certainly both anti-war and almost anti-nation. By taking a large time period, Shamsie can show that as human beings, we haven¿t learned from our mistakes, and that war is truly horrible in a way that people who haven¿t lived through it don¿t properly understand. She also shows us what a lack of education about can do through Hiroko¿s son, Raza. Hiroko tries to shield him from the atrocities of the atomic bomb by speaking little about her own experience, but that only means he doesn¿t understand what he¿s getting into when violence does encroach upon his life and only learns later the meaning and devastation of violence and loss. The mistakes are repeated later with another character, still ignorant of what war truly means. With these characters, it seems to me that the author is trying to express that people are people, by giving voices and faces to those who do cross country boundaries and who may otherwise be considered suspicious. Nationalism only impairs our ability to relate to others as we stereotype them into something Different. It¿s unquestionable, in the end, that this book has given me a lot to think about.As such, I don¿t know if I¿d call Burnt Shadows an enjoyable book, but it is very deep. I felt that I was left with a lot on my mind and I had learned something about Pakistan in particular in the process (which I did enjoy, I like learning). So I¿m undecided as to whether or not I can recommend it, and instead will leave you with just this review to decide for yourselves.
saratoga99 on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Spanning seven decades, six countries, and four families, Burnt Shadows depicts a brilliant narrative that originates in Nagasaki in 1945. The poignant catastrophic apocalypse culminates in post 9/11 New York City.Hiroko Tanaka, a proficient translator and schoolteacher is teaching Japanese to Konrad Weiss, her German fiancé. Leaving, he turns, and waves good-bye. Within a heartbeat and an atomic bomb, their world no longer exists. The crane pattern embedded in her back from her kimono is Hiroko¿s only memento. Eventually, Hiroko travels to Delhi to meet Konrad¿s half-sister Elizabeth, and her pompous British husband, James Burton. Not her initial intent, nor James¿ desire, Elizabeth insists Hiroko stay until she may find a suitable place to utilize her linguistic skills. There, she meets Satjad Ashraf, James Burton¿s local Muslim employee. Burton manifests his superficial attestation of his munificence in their daily chess games. Sadly, Satjad believes that his employment will result in procuring a position as a lawyer. An unexpected rapport develops between Hiroko and Satjad, and she asks him to teach her the Urdu language. Much to the dismay of Elizabeth, ignoring the social proprieties of class, their relationship deepens. As she discovers more about Konrad from Hiroko, Elizabeth also develops a close friendship with her.With daily news reports of the Partition of India, the Burtons arrange their leave with the intention of inviting Hiroko (without Satjad), to join them. Despite protestations from his family, Satjad plans to leave with Hiroko. Aware of the dangers of a Muslim remaining in India, they travel to Pakistan. When he finally realizes he will not be able to return to India, his Dilli, this move creates a life-long sorrow for Satjad.Sporadic relationships among these families endure, and the plot scenarios shift from country to country: Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and Canada. Increasingly ominous events suggest disaster in the Middle East. Hiroko moves to New York City to live with Elizabeth. However, no safe place exists after 9/11. Trust and faith in fellow man no longer propel actions. Confusion and fear dominate decisions. These unforeseen variances affect relationships.The conclusion, though shocking, was preordained. Kamila Shamsie has created a provocative and memorable novel overflowing with richly endowed characters who struggle to live and to love amidst the compelling history this book encompasses.When I finished this book, I re-read the prologue and the poetry and realized I had come full circle.Extradordinary book; one of the best I have read this year.
quzy on LibraryThing 6 months ago
In a brilliant flash of light Hiroko Tanaka's world changed. That light was the atomic bomb dropped August 9th, 1945 in Nagasaki Japan, and it took away everything that Hiroko held dear- her fiance, her father, her home. At the same time, the bomb left it's mark- 3 black cranes burned into her back from the after shock of the bomb as she was wearing her beautiful silk kimono. The bomb also left it's mark deep within her soul...How does one make one's life worthy? In a world where wars are fought, and prejudices exist, Burnt Shadows follows the lives of a family that began in Japan, travels to India during the Partition of India and Pakistan, and finally to New York and Afghanistan after 9/11. It is a sweeping novel that spans a life time of disappointments, love, loss and sacrifice. Kamila Shamsie's prose is lyrical, and you feel part of the story as you travel Hiroko's life with her as a silent companion.The conclusion is a quiet reminder of the world we live in now...
barbaretta on LibraryThing 6 months ago
An ambitious and complex novel that moves from World War II Japan, to India at the time of Partition, to Pakistan and then to post 9/11 New York. The transitions are managed primarily through one character, Hiroko but other superbly drawn characters enter and leave as the novels develops and moves to its haunting, and unexpected but somehow appropriate conclusion. Shamsie uses her characters with mastery and at different levels. At the personal level, they have their strengths and weaknesses, their own life stories and their relationships. At the next level, their situations provide insightful commentary on cultural dislocation and relocation and finally, and ultimately, they are illustrative of the raw human issues associated with each of the major world events around which the story line is focussed. It was an ambitious approach but Shamsie has made it work.This is a big book in every sense, a long journey over time, continents and cultures. It evokes a range of feelings that sit in a satisfying juxtaposition - lightness and darkness, stability and instability, happiness and sadness, hope and despair. The language is beautiful, the historical context is accurately portrayed and the characters are balanced and believable. This is an engaging and rewarding read ¿ highly recommended.
bermudaonion on LibraryThing 6 months ago
When Hiroko Tanaka was 21, she was living in Nagasaki and engaged to be married to Konrad Weiss. Things were difficult for them, though, because it was 1945 and people were leery of Konrad because he was German. When the atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Hiroko¿s life is changed forever ¿ she lost the love of her life and she is emotionally and physically scarred for life.Hoping to forget the past and start all over, Hiroko immigrated to India a few years later. She stayed with Konrad¿s half-sister and her family and meets and falls in love with Sajjad Ali Ashraf. Against impossible odds, Hiroko and Sajjad got married and made a life for themselves, through good times and bad.It is really hard to write a synopsis of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie without giving too much of the story away. The book starts out slow, and although the pace really doesn¿t pick up much, I found myself drawn to the book after a few chapters. Hiroko is such a strong female character and I really admired her ability to re-invent herself and her life when she needed to. She never told her son about her experiences in World War II because she wanted to protect him, but then he ended up getting caught up in some militant activity and she said, "I wish now I¿d told Raza. Told everyone. Written it down and put a copy in every school, every library, every public meeting place. But you see, then I¿d read the history books. Truman, Churchill, Stalin, the Emperor. My stories seemed so small, so tiny a fragment in the big picture."Passages like that really made me reflect on the past and the importance of remembering and learning from mistakes. It also reminded me that every person¿s story is important.I also learned a lot from Burnt Shadows. I¿m kind of embarrassed to say I knew next to nothing about Pakistan and how it was formed and why there¿s so much unrest in the area.Burnt Shadows is really the story of two families whose lives are intertwined through the years and in five different countries and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about their triumphs and tragedies. My thoughts are inadequate to describe how much is in this book and the beauty of its words.
kvanuska on LibraryThing 6 months ago
There are novels you read and enjoy in spite of their faults. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie is one of those novels. The novel¿s bold political-historical settings of Nagasaki (1947), Delhi (1947), Pakistan (1982-3), and Afghanistan and New York (2001-2) bring an original vision to the nuclear conflict and it¿s implications in the current War-on-Terror climate. In spite of a large cast of characters and shifting points of view, this novel¿s story is centered on Hiroko, a Japanese linguist in Nagasaki, who loses here German fiancé to the nuclear blast and is left with scars shaped like swans from her kimono burned into her back. Shamsie tries to set up an Eastern Family versus Western Family conflict, but this thread of the novel is weak. Hiroko¿s dead fiance¿s sister, who she travels to India to meet, that sister¿s son, Harry, his daughter, Kim ¿ none can hold a candle to the depth and passion of Hiroko¿s story, especially early in the novel (before her grown Pakistani son, Raza takes over the plot with his complicated connections with the Afghani militants, the Taliban, the CIA and its contractors). To Shamsie¿s credit, the plot she manages in terms of time jumps, variety of locations, and its generational-Roots-like characters is not an easy one. And many of the balls she¿s thrown up in the air, she does catch, bringing a myriad of stories to satisfying conclusions. However, her prose and characters suffer for having too much going on. Here¿s a sample of how graceful Shamsie¿s prose can be. ¿Hiroko steps out on to the verandah. 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.¿Shamsie uses simple yet visceral details that speak to the character¿s emotions. Now, here¿s a far too common example of Shamsie making her prose to do too much work ¿ filling the reader in on time/place details while giving a character something innocuous to do that does little to inform the reader of that character¿s emotional state. ¿Harry Burton tilted his whisky glass towards his mouth and wondered, not for the first time since his arrival in Pakistan, if the paper napkins wrapped around the glasses were designed to prevent condensation formatting and turning fingers clammy or to keep the contents of glasses masked in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.¿It truly is difficult to connect with a character who¿s ruminating about paper napkins. And, unfortunately, prose like this is more common than prose like in the other paragraph. I applaud Shamsie¿s efforts. To take on nuclear war and terrorism in one novel and not have that novel turn into a one-sided piece of political propaganda, says she did more right than wrong. Reading Burnt Shadows was a worthwhile, and occasionally rewarding, experience.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I really liked the first part of the novel, a young Japanese woman is in love with a German at the end of WW 2. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki leaves the German dead and the woman with a tatoo on her back. The story then shifts to India she travels there to meet some of his family members. There it becomes a love story. As I said the first 2/3 of the novel are interesting, a study of violence used by nations, ie the west mainly the US as seen by a third world writer. Then the novel becomes a clique The writer should have ended a 100 pages sooner.
catarina1 on LibraryThing 6 months ago
In one word - complex. Many characters, many perspectives, many issues, over 50 yrs in several different countries. Japan, India, Pakistan, the US, Afghanistan. The nuclear bomb, Partition in India and Pakistan, 9/11. Ambitious.But the book does boil down to the effect that global events have on the people who live through them, either directly or indirectly. However Shamsie achieves something more that just a "good read" - she causes us to think and examine. thats what makes for a great book. Highly recommended.
BaileysAndBooks on LibraryThing 6 months ago
If you read the synopsis of this book and see that it takes you from the bomb dropping on Nagasaki through to 9/11 it could certainly make someone raise an eyebrow to question of how can this be done well. It is fiction so of course there is built-in assumption that the reader will suspend disbelief, but when a story uses historical events that we know (or think we know) so well, it can sometimes be hard to get past what we would think would happen. But a skilled writer can get past all this, and that is what Shamsie does - she weaves such beautiful prose into a story that I would love to have continue on and on. I felt like I was there in Nagasaki looking at the notebook birds, in Delhi when Hiroko reveals her burns to Sajjad and I move with all the characters to Pakistan, NY and Afghanistan.Aside from the beautiful and engaging writing, the book raises important questions about war and its consequences, and also what drives people to do what they do.A wonderful book!
mdexter on LibraryThing 6 months ago
How are the world¿s tragedies reflected in the lives and relationships of those affected by them? This is one of the questions that Kamila Shamsie tackles in this ambitious novel set in Japan at the end of World War II, India at the Partition, Pakistan in the 1980s, and Afghanistan and New York after 9/11. Shamsie manages to develop a plot that plausibly links these disparate events through the seemingly implausible relationships of three families over the course of fifty years.At 21, Hiroko Tanaka survives the atomic bomb on Nagasaki but loses her German lover, Konrad Weiss, who has fled the repressiveness of Nazi Germany. She bears the scars of the bomb on her back in the form of three birds which outlined the kimono she was wearing when the bomb exploded. After the war in 1947, Hiroko finds her way to New Delhi and Konrad¿s sister, Ilse Weiss Burton, and her British husband, James Burton. Here she meets and falls in love with the Burtons employee, Sajjad Ashraf, a Muslim whose family is struggling with the decision to move to Pakistan at the approaching Partition. The fortunes and failings of the Weiss-Burton and Tanaka-Ashraf families intertwine for the next fifty years culminating in the intensity of anti-terrorism following 9/11.At one point, Shamsie tells the story of a spider that saved the Prophet Mohammad when he was in hiding in a cave. The spider spun a web so quickly across the mouth of the cave that the pursuers determined that no one could be hiding in there or else the web would have been disturbed. Near the end of the novel, Shamsie uses this fable as an analogy for the support her characters have given each other¿they have been each other¿s spiders. In the end, Hiroko¿s son, Raza, finds his redemption at the hands of Ilse Weiss¿ granddaughter and Konrad¿s grandniece, Kim Burton. They play out the roles established for them years before by James Burton and his relationship to Sajjad Ashraf.Shamsie mostly succeeds in the unusual linking of these disparate events. Through her characters we see the ripple effect of global tragedies across generations. But the story is told in four distinct chapters set years apart. As a result, we lose some of the character development across those years which makes it difficult to understand some of the decisions that are made late in the book. Nonetheless, Shamsie writes a compelling story in unusual settings forcing you to see recent global tragedies in a new light. Highly recommended.
nickelmoonpoet on LibraryThing 6 months ago
A powerful novel spanning the greater part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, Kamila Shamsie¿s Burnt Shadows explores the global connections of individuals and families in an increasingly tighter global community. The scars of war follow Hiroko, the primary character, throughout the novel from ground zero of the Nagasaki atomic bomb site to ground zero of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The lives of the Tanaka-Ashraf and the Burton-Weiss families illustrate the subtle nuances and overt struggles of blending the experiences of several cultures into a singular world experience. Beautifully written, Shamsie address a complicated mixture of topics with a sophisticated layering and intertwining of plot. Her characters break the boundaries of stereotype and evoke empathy from the reader as they learn to empathize with the life experiences of one another. I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the diversity and richness of a world infused with many intersecting and clashing cultures. Shamsie shows us that the history of war scars all of us and that our response to conflict and differences define who we are as individuals and as nations.
xmaystarx on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Kamila Shamsie's writing is beautiful. I re-read many passages throughout this book because the prose was just moving. I wish I was able to read this book at a slower time in my life (buying a house, writing a PhD thesis, and planning a wedding all at the same time) so I could soak in the writing a little more and provide an adequate review. The story starts in Japan with the dropping of the A-bomb and ends in post-9/11 US. I would have actually liked the book to end a little sooner and not with the main character, Hiroko, as an elderly woman. It sort of lost the flow when she moved to the US. But obviously I still found the novel an overall success and great read as I still give it 4.5 stars!
whitreidtan on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Shortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize, this is just the latest amazing novel by Shamsie. Years ago I read Salt and Saffron by her and was utterly captivated. So when the opportunity came along to review this newest book, I couldn't pass it up.The three-part story of Hiroko, a Japanese woman who survives the Nagasaki blast, this is a sprawling novel spanning four countries, two continents, and modern wars. Opening in Nagasaki before the dropping of the atomic bomb, Hiroko lives with her father and visits her love and fiance Konrad, a German ex-pat who has come to Nagasaki after being told by his half-sister and brother-in-law that he, because of his German heritage, was unwelcome in British controlled India. But when the bomb falls on Nagasaki, Konrad and Hiroko's father both die and she is marked forever by the embroidered design from her kimono, carrying the burnt shadows of the title on the skin of her back for the rest of her life.After the war, Hiroko travels to Delhi, India to find Konrad's sister and the Indian boy he spoke of so fondly, the one whom he placed in his brother-in-law's law office, Sajjad Ashraf. While living with Elizabeth (Ilse) and James Burton, Konrad's sister and brother-in-law, Hiroko and Sajjad fall in love, despite their disparate backgrounds. They elope against the backdrop of the withdrawal of the British from India and then find themselves barred from returning to Sajjad's beloved Delhi by dint of their having been out of the country during the Partition and Sajjad's Muslim faith. They make a life for themselves in Pakistan, raising a son, as their lives continue to criss-cross with the lives of Elizabeth Burton and her son Harry. This time, it's not the bomb that shadows their lives but the mujahideen and their fight.And finally, after tragedy strikes Hiroko once more in Pakistan, she travels to the US where the Burton and Ashraf families again become irretrievably intertwined. And again Hiroko is shadowed by war, this time by the powerful unrest in the Middle East and her own fears when her adopted country of Pakistan becomes a nuclear nation.As always, Shamsie's writing is astonishing and her characterizations are complex and full. She never mutes the horror of the tragedies that befall Hiroko but she doesn't sensationalize them either, using them to underscore the cost of war in human terms. She tackles morality, racism, and human nature and yet she weaves these themes together into her story so effortlessly that they do not stand out screaming their importance but instead subtley push the reader to consider his or her beliefs and prejudices, especially in this modern age. The novel is haunting and powerful and well-done. She's captured terror, both inflicted and received while she's also rendered the humanity and dignity of those who live their everyday lives with the shadows of terror on their skin, in their minds, and in the actions around them. A brilliant novel, this is one that all readers should add to their lists.
NeedMoreShelves on LibraryThing 6 months ago
This was a very good novel that was ALMOST a great novel - but just missed it by a hair.I loved the first two sections of this book. In part 1, The Yet-Unknowing World, we meet Hiroko and Konrad, and explore with them their burgeoning love. They are both outsiders - he a German, she a woman whose father is branded a traitor. People avoid them on the street, chose not to speak to them, and yet they find each other. Konrad tells Hiroko it might be better for her to distance herself from him, but she chooses not to. Their future is bright. Shamsie paints such a vivid picture of these two characters, who are both strong and yet vulnerable. And then comes the first tragedy.Part 2, Veiled Birds, finds Hiroko traveling to India to meet Konrad's family, and try to salvage a life for herself. Once again, Shamsie's characters are vivid and alive, and her writing beautifully descriptive of the locations and mindset of the people of the time. Her portrait of the marriage of Elizabeth, Konrad's sister, and her husband James is penetrating, a perfect snapshot of a couple forgetting why they loved each other. And then the second tragedy comes.In Part 3, Part-Angel Warriors, Hiroko and her husband are living in Pakistan with their son, Raza. In a section that brims with life, Raza stumbles upon a group of militant Afghanis while trying to appease his father. As he comes to identify more and more with this group, Shamsie lets readers in on the ease at which a basically good boy can become a terrorist. I found this section to be especially fascinating, with its themes of family love and loyalty, the desire to find a place to belong, and the quickness with which situations can spiral out of control. And then, of course, the third tragedy.It was the fourth section that I felt was lacking. It takes place in America and the Middle East after the events of 9/11/01, and the connection I had felt to the characters up until this point wasn't maintained. Hiroko appears less in this section than any of the others, and it could have been that I missed her presence. But more than that, I just felt like the story lost its focus, and didn't have the emotional impact the author was intending. It does, inevitable, contain another tragedy, this one the most unnecessary of them all.This is the first novel I have read by this author, and I will certainly be looking for more of her work. While the ending did lose me a bit, the overall story was compelling and beautifully written, and I do recommend the novel.
zibilee on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Hiroko Tanaka's life has been irrevocably marred by the American bombing of Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. Not only did she lose her father, village, and way of life, but also the young German artist Konrad, with whom she was beginning a relationship. After the kimono she was wearing in the blast becomes fused with her skin, she bears scars shaped like birds across her back. It is with these painful scars and memories that she leaves Japan, unable to find her place in society after the war. Hiroko travels to New Delhi, where she meets Konrad's half-sister Ilse and her husband James, who agree to shelter her in honor of Konrad's memory. James employs an ersatz assistant, Sajjad, who is in reality only there to provide him amusement and company. When Hiroko and Sajjad begin to have feelings for each other, a set of events occurs that enmesh two families through the generations and take them across the ocean from India to Pakistan to America. Along the way they face the realities of the Partition of India, the nuclear threats of Pakistan, and the more modern struggle of terrorism in America. Fraught with the themes of cultural alienation and identity, Burnt Shadows gives an account of those whose lives are built despite and amidst the destruction of war.The story was definitely powerful and emotional, but there was a lot there to digest. At times I think that the author overreached in portraying this story, with too many elements in close quarters. I understand that this story was meant to capture a large span of time and encompass several important cultural themes and events, but at times it felt like there were too many balls in the air at once.The story and message in this book prompted me to put a human face to the complications that arise during war, not only governmental, but socially and personally. The moral and personal struggles of the characters as a whole were much more complex and at times more ambiguous than in any other novel I had read previously about war and it's impacts; at times, even my own opinions were muddy about certain aspects. Many of themes and conversations of this book revolved around the characters' feelings for their homeland, prior to and during war. Some things seemed very black and white while others were clothed in subtle shades of gray. In a way, the book shattered a lot of the preconceived notions that I had, not only about political hostilities, but about the effect they have on the future generations. When Hiroko and Sajeed's young son decides to get involved with a group of young Afghans who are training for guerrilla combat, it was hard for me to find an acceptable position to take. Was I to feel upset that the boy had flown into the arms of terrorism, or was I to understand that this was only a misguided attempt to find acceptance with a group of men who seemingly idolized him?Some of the things I found interesting were not only the larger issues of cultural identity and societal belonging, but the smaller and finer character motivations and interactions that filled the pages. I think it would be too simple to focus on these things though. The issues that the book presents are meant to be much more oblique and all-encompassing than that, so I will just say that the variegated relationships, tensions, and conversations that these characters were embroiled in were both impressive and authentic. They lent a depth to the story that made it more interesting. The characters in this book inspired reaction, and whether it was frustration, anger or sympathy, I found myself being much more involved with them then I have with other characters while reading similar books.The latter half of the book examines terrorism in a manner that I found compelling, and essentially gave several differing viewpoints of the issue from both the accused and the accuser. This was done in a manner I had not been expecting or familiar with and gave me even more to think about. The conclusion of the book left me stunne
chelseagirl on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I've enjoyed other books by Shamsie, but this is by far her most ambitious, and it works, marvellously. The story begins in Nagasaki, just before the bombing, and ends in New York City, in the wake of 9/11, spending time in Delhi, shortly before Partition, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Canada. The two families involved themselves span Japan, Germany, England, India, Pakistan and the United States. And yet, by focusing on a limited number of interconnected characters, Shamsie is able to create a narrative that spans these geographical and cultural distances in a very personal way. The novel begins with Hiroko Tanaka and Konrad Weiss, a couple on the verge of their engagement, shortly before the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. Some years later, Hiroko, scarred both physically and emotionally by what she's survived, turns up in Delhi, at the home of Konrad's sister and English brother-in-law, not long before the English withdrawal from India. The friendships she forms there, with Elizabeth/Ilse (Konrad's sister) and Sajjad, an Indian Muslim who works for Burton, will shape the rest of her life. What Shamsie does best in this novel is show us multiple perspectives, both how people can overcome cultural differences, but more significantly, how well-meaning people can make devastatingly bad choices. Despite the best of intentions, cultural factors blind us to the reality of other people's lives. This book is challenging and refuses to let the reader off easily. Highly recommended.
mhleigh on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Burnt Shadows is primarily the story of choices - how the decisions of others have the ability to completely alter the world of bystanders, how a person's own choices shape the path of their life. Two families are central to the tale, with their lives winding closer and closer together as the reader watches decades pass. The story is told in four sections: Nagasaki on the day the second atomic bomb is dropped in 1945; Delhi, India on the eve of the partition and the end of British rule in 1947; Pakistan during the Cold War in 1982-83; and New York City in the two years following September 11th. The cast is a multinational spread led by the engaging, flexible Hiroko Tanaka, who opens the book by getting engaged the day the bomb is dropped. In the aftermath of the bombing Hiroko finds herself adrift, leading her to India and the Weiss family. Quote: "How to explain to the earth that it was more functional as a vegetable patch than a flower garden, just as factories were more functional than schools and boys were more functional as weapons than as humans."The first three-quarters of this novel were extremely engaging. The characters are compelling, the story relevant, and the writing was very strong. It has all the elements of a compelling story. The Nagasaki and India portions had me hooked early, Pakistan started to fade slightly, and then the New York segment at the end was just plain difficult to get through. The author is working towards the impact of 9/11 before it happens, but in a lot of ways I would have liked the book a lot better without the final section. However, the majority of the book is fascinating, and others might not be as worn out by the end as I was.
Litfan on LibraryThing 6 months 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.
Cariola on LibraryThing 6 months ago
An ambitious novel (maybe a bit too ambitious) that attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the 20th century and our own times with a focus on violence, nationalism, mobility, and the effects of each on two extended and related families. The story is carried from the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki (1945) through post-9/11 paranoia, mainly by Hiroko Tanaka Ashraf. As a young woman, she was scarred by the bomb that also took the lives of her German fiance and her father. The event sets her on a journey in search of peace that takes her to India, Turkey, Pakistan, and, finally, the United States. Some of her moves are by choice, others accidental or enforced, but she remains always, somehow, connected to the family of her lost fiance. There's no happy ending here, but no great tragedy either, just a bleak prospect: "Outside, the world went on."
blakefraina on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I think it's important to note that the main characters in Kamila Shamsie¿s brilliant novel, Burnt Shadows, are Japanese, German and Pakistani Muslims. This is a book that deals with the political tensions between different nations, nationalities and ethnic groups, and within that context Shamsie succeeds in putting a human face on the US's three bitterest enemies of the past sixty years. It is an epic novel that spans all of those years - covering three generations and as many continents. And, a typical hazard of epic fiction, just when I found myself getting attached to one group of people and becoming invested in their storyline, the author moves on. She is particularly skilled at creating memorable and sympathetic characters. I especially loved Hiroko, the Japanese woman who loses her German fiance in the bombing of Nagasaki, and thereafter moves to India to live with his sister (who has nearly disavowed her German identity) and her British husband. Hiroko is the personification of "ground zero," as she moves from her decimated home city after the bombing, to Delhi just before the acrimonious partition between India and Pakistan and, as a widow, to New York City in the years leading up to September 11. She is a most unusual and spirited creation and I was saddened when the author eventually moved her to the margins.All the other characters, while not quite as impressive as Hiroko, are unique and believable. Even to the very end, when some very destructive choices are made, I was hard-pressed to lay blame. Shamsie demonstrates that we are all products of the times we live in and, since WWII, propaganda and fear-mongering have played a huge role in shaping society. Shamsie¿s writing is concise and very readable. I found the pages flying by and what seemed to be, at the outset, a rather daunting read, went by very quickly. Burnt Shadows demonstrates how circumstances, both personal and global, are often the result of a chain of events that, once set into motion, are all but impossible to stop. And by winning our empathy for her characters, she proves that, underneath it all, we are all much more alike than different.
brenzi on LibraryThing 6 months ago
There's a mark on the wall from me throwing this book across the room when I read the last paragraph. Loved, loved the book! HATED, HATED, HATED the ending. Sweeping narrative, complex characterizations, and a finely detailed portrait of man's inhumanity to man and yet the author failed to come up with a more satisfying ending. I don't mean that the ending wasn't a likely result of everything that preceded it, it's just that I was looking for something, oh I don't know, maybe....happier?In this epic novel of love, loss and heartache, Shamsie has painted an achingly sad picture of war and its devastating effect on the lives that get in its way. From Nagasaki, to India, to 9/11, to Afghanistan Shamsie covers the years from 1945 until 2002. Hiroko Tanaka watches as her world crumbles with the explosion of the atomic bomb that would finally end WWII. She bravely picks up the pieces and moves on to India, Delhi in particular where she watches Partition unfold. And then, years later, she arrives in New York City right after 9/11 and watches as her son ends up in Afghanistan. Shamsie does an excellent job demonstrating how Hiroko was able to face the many challenges that presented themselves."She rubbed her thumb along the interlacings of the green cane chair. And this world , too, was ending. A year or two, no more...and then the British would go. It seemed the most extraordinary privilege---to have forewarning of a swerve in history, to prepare for how your life would curve around that bend. She had no idea what she planned to do beyond Delhi. Beyond next week. And why plan anyway? She had left such hubris behind. For the moment it was enough to be here, in the Burton garden, appreciative of a blanket of silence threaded with vibrant bird calls, knowing there was nothing here she couldn't leave without regret." (Page 60)Filled with symbolism, evocative and mesmerizing in its haunting beauty and written in poetic prose, I would highly recommend this novel but you might want to finish reading it outside where you can throw it across the yard`without doing much harm.