I was really excited when my online bookclub decided to read Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. It seemed just like the kind of book I would enjoy with a strong Japanese tie-in. And I did find a lot to appreciate about this book, but it wasn't at all what I was expecting.
Burnt Shadows begins in Nagasaki on the day the atomic bomb was dropped. Hiroko Tanaka survives the blast but loses her German fiance. In the middle of her grief and the aftermath of war, she goes to India to visit her dead fiance's family. There she meets Sajjad, a Muslim Indian man whom she falls in love with. Their unlikely love story gives birth to a new generation of sorrow in war time.
I suspect that Ms. Shamise wanted to tell a story about humanity in the middle of terrible times as well a story about all the terrible ways war happens, how quick decisions impact our lives and how the cruelties we visit upon one another perpetuate more and more cruelty and hatred. In some ways she succeeded though I found the book a bit tedious to get through. There were some parts I genuinely enjoyed yet I think the book would have benefited from being a bit shorter. Like maybe 100 pages shorter.
But I did enjoy a lot of it. There were some really really nice patches of writing and interesting thematic exploration. But there's a lot of sorrow and missed chances and poor decision making.
When my book club met on Skype, we were relatively quiet. Part of this is because my headset doesn't seem to be working! I actually had a lot to discuss about this book, but they couldn't hear me!
One of my absolute favorite passages was this little sentence tucked in a greater paragraph:
"It didn't bother her in the least to know she would always be a foreigner in Pakistan--she had no interest in belonging to anything as contradictorily insubstantial and damaging as a nation."
This led me to quite a bit of deep spiritual reflection, but I really agree! Nations can be very damaging.
Being a foreigner and not belonging was another heavy theme throughout, to which I course related. The not belonging part. :)
Burnt Shadows is probably not a book for everyone and it's quite heavy. Having said that, I do think you might enjoy it if you like the themes I've mentioned or the areas of the world, particularly Pakistani history, it covers.
Things You Might Want to Know: A bit of language and sex.
Book Source: Review copy from publisher