Burnt Shadows

Burnt Shadows

Book - 2009
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Sweeping in scope and mesmerizing in its evocation of time and place, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of disasters elided and confronted, loyalties offered and repaid, and loves rewarded and betrayed. August 9, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realization. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, Hiroko travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad's half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband, James Burton, and their employee, Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history - personal, political - are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs, and Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences. Excerpt Konrad walks across Urakami Valley, his heart folding in and in on itself. Hiroko steps out onto the veranda. Her body from the neck down a silk column, white withthree black cranes swooping across her back. She looks out towards the mountains, and everything is more beautiful to her than it was early this morning. Nagasaki is more beautiful to her than ever before. She turns her head and sees the spires of Urakami Cathedral which Konrad is looking up at when he notices a gap open between the clouds. Sunlight streams through, pushing the clouds apart even further. Hiroko. And then the world goes white.
Publisher: Toronto : Bond Street Books, c2009.
ISBN: 9780385666954
Characteristics: 370 p. ; 22 cm.


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Jul 31, 2017

A wide-ranging book, from Nagasaki to Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. This is a novel, however, so its focus is on individual people and what these events do to two intertwined families. The writing is delicious, and heartbreaking. Each character grows, or disintegrates, under the pressure of their lives. When the 2nd bomb is dropped, Hiroko watches her father and German fiance die, as the black cranes on her mother's kimono burn themselves onto her back, leaving terrible scars which have no feeling. After throwing herself into three years of chaotic life with Tokyo's GI's, she finally goes to Delhi to find her fiance's sister and brother-in-law. John and Ilse divorce and Ilse moves to NYC, where Hiroko finds restful home with her in old age. John wants to kick her out, but Ilse takes her in, feeling a human need to atone. Hiroko feels useless, but languages come easy to her, so she asks for a tutor in Urdu. Sajjad fall in love with her, they marry, and, after a late miscarriage due to her radiation sickness, she has a son who becomes the focus of her life. He is secretive, and it takes a long time for her to learn that he's a spy for the CIA, recruited by a family member. That doesn't stop Hiroko loving her son Raza, but it increases her fear for him, and "forces" him to lie to her because he loves her. The descriptions are intense and fully rounded, from the land to the training camps to the food to the stench of the slums. The people are just as fully described. A tour de force by a woman born in Pakistan, who has studied and taught in the US, and teaches in the UK. I'll read her other novels as well.

Apr 08, 2013

Ambitious and complex, this is the intersecting story of two families. Shamsie tackles big themes - cultural identity, the impact of war - in a thought-provoking way.

Oct 19, 2010

Rich with detail. An intelligent read. Shamsie successfully allows the reader to become intimately aware of each characters' nuances, culture and background by her ability to turn prose into a multi-layered painting. I loved the book.

quagga Nov 27, 2009

Pakistani-born Shamsie has written an ambitious saga about the entwined lives of two families: the Tanaka-Ashrafs (Japanese and Urdu) and the Weiss-Burtons (German and English). This novel threads together world events, starting in 1945 with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki; moving to Delhi in 1947, with the departure of the British colonists and the partition of Pakistan; then to Afghanistan in 1982-83, where the mujahideen are battling Soviet occupation of their country; ending in New York in 2001-2, after the terrorists attacks that felled the World Trade Towers. An unforgettable, immensely powerful book.

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