Friday, November 27, 2009

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

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 colonialists 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.
Note added Dec. 5: Kim Hill of Radio New Zealand interviewed Kamila Shamsie about Burnt Shadows and learned where she got the striking image that started the book: a Japanese woman with the bird design from her kimono tattooed onto her back from the flash of the atomic bomb. Shamsie's first book was written at age 11 - A Dog's Life and After - and was about dog heaven. Their wide-ranging discussion included politics and why Pakistan's patriarchal society breeds stroppy women.

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