Book Review: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

nagasaki       colonial india

Wow. I never know quite where to begin with Kamila Shamsie! Burnt Shadows is an epic, historical novel that handles defining and complex fragments of modern history with masterful ease. Set in the wake of World War 2 and the horror of Nagasaki, the book snakes its way through partition to post 9/11 New York with grace, yet quite remarkably, does so without overwhelming the reader. As the personal histories and stories of the characters unfold, a beautiful cross generational story evolves, interlapping the lives of Hiroko Tanaka, Elizabeth Burton and their families. Hiroko is an instantly likeable and pragmatic woman whose life we follow from Japan and the devastation of Nagasaki and loves lost, to India where she forges new bonds before the imminent partition of India sends her travelling again. Along the way and amidst the political and personal upheaval, the families of both these women are thrown together and torn apart in this emotionally charged tale of such tremendous scope. Shamsie’s imagination and skill in Burnt Shadows is commendable. She is able to make discerning commentaries on socio-political and historical events with subtlety and flair whilst narrating the intricacies of personal loss and the intimacies of family life. She leaves you questioning our current state of affairs and approaching the future with a sense of foreboding in what is by far her best novel to date. If you only read one novel by Shamsie, let it be this one.

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