After reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and being completely enthralled, I was keen to read something in the same vein…so I chose ‘Burnt Shadows’ by Kamila Shamsie and was not disappointed. Described on the jacket by the Daily Telegraph as ‘A historical novel for our times’ and Emma Thompson as ‘Completely authentic, complex and breath-stopping’; I was really looking forward to reading ‘Burnt Shadows’ and for good reason!
The novel opens with two thoughtful poems, which hint at the story to come. One, by Agha Shahid Ali from A Nostalgist’s Map of America, which invokes a fear of loss and realisation of everything that is lost and the other by Sahir Ludhianvi called Parchaiyann, which notes the fact that ‘in past wars only homes burnt, but this time…don’t be surprised if even shadows ignite.’ Both poems leave you feeling reflective and the words remain in the back of your mind as the novel begins…
Our protagonist in ‘Burnt Shadows’ is Hiroko Tanaka, a young Japanese woman who is on the verge of marrying Konrad Weiss. She is 21 when suddenly a bomb is dropped on Nagasaki and extinguishes everything and everyone she has ever known. All that remains are bird-shaped burns on her back as a permanent reminder of what she has lost. Hiroko travels to Delhi to find Konrad’s relatives and finds a friend in Konrad’s sister, Elizabeth Burton and finds herself in love again with one of Elizabeth’s employees, Sajjad.
So much happens in ‘Burnt Shadows’ and we follow Hiroko from Nagasaki, to India, to New York and then to Afghanistan after 9/11. But at no point, do we feel lost. In fact, the shadows of history that reverberate throughout the novel, link Hiroko and Elizabeth’s families and it becomes clear that in the face of adversity, you can find love and happiness again, although the burnt shadows will always be there.
This is a fantastic book, which takes you on a fascinating journey through key moments of history, through the eyes of someone who had experienced them first-hand and yet continues to look to the future, for the sake of her family, her friends and her sanity. An amazing selection of characters, an incredible book!