Review : Burnt Shadow

November 4, 2012
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-55187-2
Rating: ★★★★☆
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Historical journey collides in the consequences of the present, common thread giving birth to a new time and space. The story is the reflection of events took birth in the socio-political conflicting scenario between nations at the time of World War 2, America’s decision against Nagasaki, India’s freedom from East India Company, Soviet’s intervention into Afghanistan in the eighties, birth of Taliban and creation of a new religion- Terrorism by the term of 9/11 and the CIA emergence in the parts of Muslim territory.

Kamila’s thoughts and words are after effect image of changing relations of characters described in this book from different places. She has recited the story into parts by portraying generations gone by the years from 1947 to 2002, tangling the lives of families mentioned.

Set during World War 2, 1945, Hiroko Tanaka from Nagasaki, Japanese school teacher in love with Konard Weiss from Berlin. It was 9th August, 1945 when the second bomb in the city of Nagasaki turned Hiroko’s world into white. Just when Hiroko and Konard make their secret vows for their future life as husband and wife, Hiroko in her veranda standing wrapped around her mother’s Japanese Kimono and rejoicing those moments with Konard, watching him go toward Urakami Cathedral. The dust and the heat devastating her future. Hiroko lives with the horror of clouds of 9th August with the black marks in the form of birds from her Kimono on her back.

Grief and despair can never go along with hope. Hiroko leaves her life behind, haunted enough by the memories and loss. She decides to go to Delhi, at Konard’s sister; Isle and Brother in law James Burton’s Bungle Oh in 1947. Period of an irony of Freedom from the British Raj and the partition. At Burton’s she encounters and falls in love with Sajjad Ali Ashraf during their Urdu language classes. Sajjad loves his Dilli/Delhi and is unsure of his life after the partition. He works as a servant for Burtons. Optimistic Sajjad keeps hope to become a lawyer with the help of James Burton’s position until the reality turns out pretty harsh.

At the time of partition Sajjad goes against his family and marry Hiroko. Burton’s actions take into the shape of hatred of languages and classes. Despite the affray, with the assistance of Burtons, Sajjad and Hiroko live their initial years of marriage in Istanbul. As the tragedy evokes, Ashrafs never come back to beloved Delhi, they move to Pakistan, Karachi in 1980s with their son- Raza.

Sajjad and Hiroko’s dreams, Japanese inheritance, dialects- German, Urdu, Japanese convoy in their son. Raza has inclination toward languages, his interest lie in the interpretation and translation of languages.

And the story takes its shape with the emergence of mid eighties period in Pakistan, Raza’s new friendships in the name of Hazara. The day comes when invasion of Soviet’s on one hand and CIA role on the other leaves Hiroko with the same horror of running away from past and even her present.

Old friendships and moments return when the lives shift to New York City in 2000. Burton’s son; Harry and grandchild; Kim become part of Hiroko’s life. Raza is in search of contention of his own past and decisions. And this leads to the common thread of contemporary scenario of Afghanistan, America and that of old picture of what happened in India and Japan.

In the context of events faced by Hiroko, she puts her grief and justification by saying that “You just have to put them in a little corner of the big picture of the Second World War.” Life of one Afghan and thousands of death of Japanese is over shadowed when the big picture of uncertainty and threat strikes America.

Burnt Shadow is beautiful, unfortunate, deep, brings back the bygone days, highlighting the real picture of the borders, unknowingly connecting two families across nations with each other in the most crudest and delicate way.

Kamila Shamsie’s fifth book- Burnt Shadow is the winner of Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, an Orange Prize finalist. Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi and is the prize-winning author of Kartography. She lives in London.

Charu Sharma

Writer at IndiaBookStore
Books and writing take me to my Neverland. I want to drown into the creations of music-art-literature. I prefer the company of Books than people- That's cynical me!

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