Title: Burnt Shadows
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Hiroko is living in Nagasaki, Japan when she meets Konrad Weiss, a German man from Berlin. They fall in love and plan to marry when the unthinkable happens – Nagasaki is bombed by the Americans and Konrad is killed.
Bereft, Hiroko travels to India in order to meet Konrad’s half-sister, Ilse, and ends up staying with her and her husband, James, for some time. There, she meets Sajjad, an Indian employee of James’ and begins to connect with him. In a tale that spans over fifty years and takes the reader all over the world, from Japan to war-torn Afghanistan, this novel of two inextricably intertwined families gives the reader a unique account of modern history.
Upon opening Burnt Shadows, the first thing the reader notices is Kamila Shamsie’s beautiful writing. She writes with passion and grace; though sometimes wordy, Shamsie’s writing style makes the entire novel quiet and contemplative, despite the explosive subject matter.
Hiroko was a well-written character, though I felt sorry for her while reading Burnt Shadows. She seemed to encounter tragedy after tragedy, and though she managed to be strong, it was depressing in a lot of ways. The character of Raza was irritating at best and completely brainless at worst – I had trouble enjoying reading about him because of how much I disliked his character.
I read this book for my online book club, and the most interesting question to come out of the subsequent discussion was whether Burnt Shadows is anti-American. It certainly doesn’t portray Americans in the best light, beginning with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. However, I would argue that this book is actually not anti-American. It definitely presents a more negative view of the United States than Americans are used to seeing, but it is very contemplative. It will provoke questions within any reader and make them think long and hard, which is definitely a good thing.
One major issue with the book was that it was simply too long. Shamsie expressed the horrors of war and the importance of communication, of sharing your stories before it’s too late. However, she could still have done so effectively with a shorter book, which might have made it more reader friendly.
While Burnt Shadows definitely isn’t easy to read and is best taken slowly, in some ways it’s literary fiction at its best because of the way it makes the reader think. This is not a book to force yourself through, but if you’re interested in reading this book, I highly recommend it. Though I didn’t love it, I’m still thinking about it almost a week later, and that says something about the power of this novel.