Kamila Shamsie: Burnt Shadows

AUGUST 31, 2021

Imagine my delight when I opened this recently acquired secondhand book and discovered that it was a signed copy!

_ _ _

Nagasaki just before the bomb dropped in 1945, Delhi at the cusp of the partition that created Pakistan in 1947, Istanbul briefly, life in Pakistan in the early 1980s where Islamic fundamentalism began to be felt, post-9/11 New York, Afghanistan amid the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Iran much more briefly than Istanbul, and back to North America — this is where the book takes you.

Now I understand why Salman Rushdie described Kamila Shamsie as a “writer of immense ambition and strength.” The scope of this novel is ambitious, and to succeed in carrying it out is where her strength manifests.

Although admittedly, this will not be one of the books I would immediately recommend if asked to suggest a Pakistani work, I have to say that it also gave me much. Through the characters the reader encounters the nuances of what it felt to be an ordinary German or Japanese after the Second World War, to be English in India during the last days of the British Empire, to be Muslim in India before the partition, to be a member of the mujahideen that would drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, to be an American in the midst of all these, and simply to be human in the face of war and conflict.

To humanize what we tend to generalize is what this novel does best. This one is certainly not bereft of poetry and pain.

“𝘞𝘢𝘳 𝘪𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦. 𝘜𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘭 𝘺𝘰𝘶’𝘷𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘥 𝘪𝘵, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘪𝘵… 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘵𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘧𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘦𝘭𝘴𝘦. 𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘺 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘧𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘦𝘭𝘴𝘦; 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘢𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘭𝘭.” 

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