Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

Title: Burnt Shadows
Author: Kamila Shamsie
ISBN: 9780312551872
Pages: 384
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

Comments

  1. I’m 100% with you on your entire last paragraph. What left me feeling glad that I’d read this was that it did make me really step back and consider my worldview. That is definitely literary fiction at its best.

  2. I’m 100% with you on your entire last paragraph. What left me feeling glad that I’d read this was that it did make me really step back and consider my worldview. That is definitely literary fiction at its best.

  3. I think I liked this book more than most people. Granted, it wasn’t a fast read, but it didn’t seem to long to me. It is definitely a book that makes you think for a while. Great review.

  4. I think I liked this book more than most people. Granted, it wasn’t a fast read, but it didn’t seem to long to me. It is definitely a book that makes you think for a while. Great review.

  5. Great review — I think you have it right. I’m enjoying the book much more now that I’m reading slowly instead trying to rush to meet a date. Even knowing what is going to happen, I’m enjoying the journey. This book just can’t be rushed.

  6. Great review — I think you have it right. I’m enjoying the book much more now that I’m reading slowly instead trying to rush to meet a date. Even knowing what is going to happen, I’m enjoying the journey. This book just can’t be rushed.

  7. I think I enjoyed this one more than you. I thought the writing was just beautiful and I agree that this book was thought provoking. I did find parts of the story were a little slow for me, but overall I thought the pace was appropriate for what the author wanted to accomplish.

  8. I think I enjoyed this one more than you. I thought the writing was just beautiful and I agree that this book was thought provoking. I did find parts of the story were a little slow for me, but overall I thought the pace was appropriate for what the author wanted to accomplish.

  9. Hello book club! LOL

    Well I do think it’s quite a thought provoking book, but I’m not sure I actually liked it, though I’m glad I read it if that makes any sense.

  10. Hello book club! LOL

    Well I do think it’s quite a thought provoking book, but I’m not sure I actually liked it, though I’m glad I read it if that makes any sense.

  11. Interesting review. Would u rate this as Shamsie’s best work?

  12. Interesting review. Would u rate this as Shamsie’s best work?

  13. Amy – Don’t worry, it makes total sense 🙂

    Swapna – Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of Shamsie’s other works, so I can’t compare them. I hope to do so in the future.

  14. Amy – Don’t worry, it makes total sense 🙂

    Swapna – Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of Shamsie’s other works, so I can’t compare them. I hope to do so in the future.

  15. Great review! I hope to read this one at some point. It sounds really interesting. Would it be okay if I linked to your review on War Through the Generations?

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  16. Great review! I hope to read this one at some point. It sounds really interesting. Would it be okay if I linked to your review on War Through the Generations?

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  17. Kamila Shamsie is one of my favorite authors. It is great to see her work reviewed! This wasn’t my favorite book by Shamsie but it was very powerful and beautifully written. If you are looking for something to read, pick up Kartography. It’s not a perfect book, but it is my favorite because of the relationships between the characters. Thank you for your lovely blog, I am planning on returning often.

    Lorren @ The Story Girl

  18. Kamila Shamsie is one of my favorite authors. It is great to see her work reviewed! This wasn’t my favorite book by Shamsie but it was very powerful and beautifully written. If you are looking for something to read, pick up Kartography. It’s not a perfect book, but it is my favorite because of the relationships between the characters. Thank you for your lovely blog, I am planning on returning often.

    Lorren @ The Story Girl

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