‘To the End of the Land’

David Grossman’s To the End of the Land is an utterly absorbing, harrowing and heart-achingly evocative book.

Unlike some books, we are given quite a long synopsis on the back cover which is very useful due to the depth of the narrative.

From the outset, the book takes you off into a completely different world and into an unfamiliar scenario. Immediately we are out of our comfort zones and this is refreshingly brilliant! Our protagonist is Ora and we first encounter her in a medical facility where she, Avram and Ilan were sent as children. Soon into the first few chapters, we realise that we’re on the cusp of a love triangle but are constantly aware that there is much much more to the narrative than that…

OH MY there was SO much more to the narrative than that!

Suddenly, they aren’t children any more and they aren’t sheltered from the outside world and all the terrible things that happen there…they are in the midst of the Israel-Pakistan conflict and torn between right and wrong, fear and bravery and love and hate in a seemingly unending spiral! Not knowing much about the conflict in Israel/Pakistan meant that I actually learned a lot more about the people of the countries than the political backdrop.

It is impossibly hard to write about this book without firstly giving too much away!

So in addition to the three central characters, we become aware that Ora has two sons and they have been directly involved in the conflict, much to her despair, her youngest son Ofer is re-enlisted at the end of his tour and Ora soon convinces herself that he probably won’t come back from this and that she does not want to be there when they come to tell her that he or her ex Ilan…that he has died so she flees to Galilee…with Avram.Yes, you’ve guessed it…there’s a lot more to the unrequited love triangle than first meets the eye…

I absolutely love books that really focus on people rather than tarring them with the brush of the context. To the End of the Land does just that. In a similar vein to A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter, this book shows you the politics, the prejudices, the conflicts etc. predominantly through the people at the heart of the country. It is a wonderful read, difficult at times but it is the strength and realism of Ora as the central character and the focus on the plight of the people in spite of the horrendous ongoing conflicts that make this book so good and so real.

Grossman’s writing is tender, sophisticated and harrowing all in one. This is a wonderful book, which captures the fear, bravery and bloodshed of war whilst keeping love, family and heartache at the forefront.

If you like Khaled Hosseini and Eugenia Kim and if you like reading about strength in the face of adversity, you must read this book, it’s wonderfully and thoughtfully written whilst reminding you that even though all we civilians hear about war is in numbers…there are people behind the numbers, people behind the guns, people with families.

This book is good for rainy days and quiet evenings. You won’t be disappointed.

‘Burnt Shadows’

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!

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is the second novel by Khaled Hosseini and I absolutely LOVED it! The novel focuses around the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women from completely different backgrounds who are forced to share the same house with the same cruel man, Rasheed. They endure tragedy, pain and heartbreak in more ways than it is possible to imagine…some moments are difficult to read because it is hard to comprehend that the human body can bear such cruelty. 

Throughout the novel, Mariam and Laila’s lives become further entwined and they find comfort in each others company and strength against their mutual enemy. There are so many facets of human nature explored in this book, Hosseini identifies the underlying issues that plague Afghan households as well as showing the effect of years of war, political conflict and the increasing threat of the Taliban.

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is a beautifully tragic novel which undoubtedly shows the triumph of love and heroism in the face of death, destruction and unbearable heartache and it is a must-have for every bookshelf!