Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamise

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.

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: A bit of language and sex.
Book Source: Review copy from publisher



Sandy Nawrot said...

I just read another review of this yesterday, and it sounded like something I would really like. Multi-cultural, multi-generational, and a really interesting author!

bermudaonion said...

I think I enjoyed it more than most people, although I found the review really hard to write. I love your synopsis - I should have gotten you to write one for me!

Julie P. said...

I am so upset that I missed the discussion because I thought this novel had so many layers. Of course, it seemed like my technology was faulty too! Great review!

Hazra said...

I read a review of this sometime back. Sounds like a good one.

S. Krishna said...

This was a great review - you actually reminded me of some things I wanted to mention, but forgot to!

Beth F said...

I wish your headset had worked! Your review will help me through the rest of the book. The quote about nations is something I'll be thinking about.

BurtonReview said...

I absolutely loved this book and would love to read it again; I will in another year or two. I really hope that it wins the Orange Prize which it has been shortlisted for. There are a multitude of themes that get lost in the overall enjoyment of the story, but it is important to never forget how that decision to drop the bomb(s) has affected our ancestors and the rest of the world. I wish the world would read about the emotional and not just physical scars such as the ones the author portrays here, before glorifying war.

Heidenkind said...

That sentence you quoted is very thought-provoking. I think a lot of people felt that way after WWII and it manifested itself in different ways--like Camus and existentialism. There was also a great, great short story I read in high school about post-war violence in England.

Meghan said...

I'm sorry your headset wasn't working! You had great things to say, as you always do, and I hope it works better next time. I really like your comment about nationality, because I was thinking of what you said about it being an anti-American book and I think that it's actually anti-nationalism. I'm still thinking about how to phrase this in my review.

Melissa Ward said...

Numero Uno: I've had Burnt Shadows on the back-burner; I really would like to get it finished and you've added yet another good review to whet my whistle.

Numero Dos: I've gived you with the Zombie Chicken award (because you're AWESOME and give so much of yourself with BBAW!) - http://balletbookworm.blogspot.com/2009/09/zombie-chickens.html

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Great review. I'm still mixed on whether to read it or not!

Melody said...

I've read some mixed reviews about this book, maybe this is one reason why I still haven't read it yet; the book has been sitting on my pile for some time.

Literary Feline said...

I've been really wanting to read this one. And was glad to read your review, Amy. It does sound like something I would really like, especially in regards to the themes you mention.

Anna said...

I hope to read this one at some point. It sounds really interesting. I'll get your review up on War Through the Generations soon.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anna said...

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

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