July 16, 2015

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' - A Searing Saga that Shocks and Humbles.

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' is simply brilliant storytelling with some very rich and evocative language.

"Do you know I've been here a dozen times, but I've never known anything about who built it or why.
My history is your picnic ground," he said..

“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.”

"We anticipate disasters, calculate stress with mathematical precision. The messier our personal lives the better we are at designing structures that withstand the pressure they'll inevitably- or potentially- endure.  Bring on your storms, bring on your earthquakes. We've done our calculations.  And lovers, take note....when we break up with you, it's because we've modelled the situation, run the simulations, we know which way things are headed."

“....barriers made of metal could turn fluid when touched simultaneously by people on either side...”

"This Pakistan, it's taking my friends, my sister, it's taking the familiarity from the streets of Dilli. Thousands are leaving, thousands more will leave. What am I holding on to? Just kite strings attached to air at either ends."

This 2009 novel of Ms. Shamsie was recommended by a friend quite a while ago, but the somber nature of the title put me off, and sadly enough, 'Burnt Shadows' sat on my shelf and on my 'to read' list for quite some years! So much for never judging a book by its title!

For someone that young, Kamila Shamsie took on a very vast canvas to paint; her novel 'Burnt Shadows' spans several decades and travels across many countries on different continents. The storyline weaves itself around three generation with the one common thread, Hiroko, the female protagonist, a 'hibakusha', who, though homeless never hankered for home,  and had 'not thought of destination so much as departure'. Having witnessed the bombing of Nagsaki, the aftermath of the India Pakistan partition in Delhi, a nervous Karachi during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and an Islamophobic New York post 9/11, Hiroko is Shamsie's global citizen carrying 'burnt shadows' of a tortuous history on her back, literally and figuratively. What these 'burnt shadows' are, how they came to be, and how they affect her and those around her is what the novel is about!

Did Ms. Shamsie have a message to convey through this novel? Obviously she did, and I'm sure readers will find several themes embedded in the panoramic saga of this novel, but the one message that stands out for me is that History cannot be ignored as it colors and determines the future of humanity. If and when you read the novel, could you think of another theme that is as pervasive and relevant ?

Kamila Shamsie's 'Burnt Shadows' is a must-read! It is a page turner that enthralls with vivid settings, expressive language, dynamic characterization, and a storyline that never loses it's grip.

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