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Burnt Shadows [Paperback]

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good read Aug. 29 2009
By U.Jay
I really enjoyed the novel. It was complex and subtle in the way the author weaves together the relationships between the characters and the passage of time. Particularly liked the moral complexity in the motives of the characters. I would highly recommend this novel.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The book provides a fascinating account of WWII, Indian, Pakistan and the US from the eyes of a Japanese woman. The book did a great job of keeping me engaged and at times genuinely surprised. I highly recommend it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars delighted! May 14 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
the book arrived on time and in the condition prescribed at the point of sale.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Then the world goes white." April 13 2009
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Shamsie's profound and troubling novel bridges the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 to post-9/11 New York, when terrorism and distrust has defined a country's response to a terrible act. But the heart of the tale begins with language, with the sharing of one language with another, one culture with another. Out of this simple human connection comes a story of history, tragedy and loss. Hiroko Tanaka, a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki, cannot find an answer to the question that haunts her: After Hiroshima, why a second bomb? Who makes such a decision? From that infamous day through 9/11, the acts of violence in the world are laid bare, countries in conflict, individuals searching for identity and meaning. Putting human faces on those who are affected, Shamsie draws a direct line between actions and actors, the intimate details of personal lives, the aspirations, beliefs and passions of individuals on a collision course with fate.

Surviving Nagasaki with the images of three birds burned into her back, Hiroko has lost the man she loves, Konrad Weiss, a German. Konrad's sister, Ilse, is married to an Englishman, James Burton. Two years later, when Hiroko travels to India to meet Konrad's family, she has no idea that her future will be intricately twined with the Burton's, or that she will meet her future husband, Sajjad Ashraf, in their home. While the Burton's personify England's imperialism and arrogance, Hiroko views life through a different prism, a woman who has lost everything, even her home. History shifts once again, the British departing India on the cusp of the Partition and the swath of violence than ensues. Living in Pakistan with Sajjad, Hiroko's family remains inextricably linked with the Burton's through circumstance, future generations experiencing the reverberations of those connections as they make critical life choices.

This novel opens a window into history, world events as significant as the characters; yet without these wonderfully nuanced characters it would be impossible to understand the ramifications of political evolution, the tangled web of nationalism and individual decisions, how a person can be absorbed, even twisted, by an idea. Bearing the scars of Nagasaki, Hiroko is history's witness, the eyes of humanity searching through the rubble of conflict, her family marked by her tragedy: "Hibakusha. It remained the most hated word in her vocabulary." Hiroko views her life, her grief, through the lens of that experience, a lifelong search for an answer. As time passes, the world grows smaller, from Japan and Nagasaki to India to Pakistan and New York, yet more complicated, more treacherous. Shamsie offers a compelling, disturbing reflection on a world that refuses to learn from the mistakes of the past, a heated response unleashed by fear, the human story writ large. Luan Gaines/2009.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessary Read For A World That Humors Itself Civilized April 11 2009
By Erika Haase - Published on Amazon.com
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this book and once I started, found I couldn't be away from it for too long until it was over. Since the summary of the plot line is already in this product description, I won't waste time on that (and I don't want to give anything away). I was incredibly moved by how far out of a judgmental mindset the author took me. Through her realistic and brutally honest portrayals of the ripple affect human atrocities towards each other cause I was touched in a way no other book about racism, tolerance, and world peace has ever managed to accomplish. There is never a moment of judgement towards one side or another, there is only truth and cold hard historical facts being relayed through the voices of her characters. The only biases are those that would be contained within the points of views of the character speaking. By the last pages, I found tears in my eyes as I found myself searching for a happy ending and confronting the realization that the cold honesty of this book maintains itself to the last word. This is not a book that is intended to be pleasant, or leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. This is a book to make you question what you think you know. This is a book that, for me, inspired a moment of reflection and a deep desire to educate future generations about the consequences even one person can have upon the world. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to educate themselves and look beyond their comfort zone. It has earned a place of respect on my book shelf.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Beyond the Shadows May 8 2009
By Beverly Jackson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie is an ambitious epic book that grabs you in the prologue, as an unnamed narrator is disrobed and left to wait naked with only a steel bench to sit on. His thought is - "How did it come to this." How stark is this setting - but the grace of the language warns you that this is a story that you want to see unfold.

The story spans 60 years and takes the reader to five different countries: Nagasaki, August 1945; Delhi 1947; Pakistan 1982-3; and New York/ Afghanistan 2001-2; and the connecting points for two families whose family members will have intimate knowledge of the destruction of war. It all starts in the morning of August 9, 1945 before the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and we are introduced to schoolteacher, Hiroko Tanaka and a man from Berlin, Konrad Weiss. Both are looking forward to the end of the war so that life gets back to normal and they can be wed. But history has other plans, and Hiroko whose language skills has her working for the Americans during the occupation. Unable to work closely with the "terrorists" who have invaded her country, she flees to Delphi to Konrad's sister. Hiroko is the one character that is present throughout the book and helps thread the book themes together.

This is an elegantly written story that allows the reader to understand how history affects our relationships with each other, Sometimes history defers relationships and others relationships survive despite the history. In each of the major parts of the book - there are historical events that are well known but what is not known is how it affects individuals who only want "to farm their land and raise their families." There are themes of sameness and otherness in different cultures and the issues that one can have when trying to be the same. This book shows how a terrorist is defined is dependent on whose face you are looking at based on your own individual history.

I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and world events. Readers of literary fiction will enjoy this poetic story with the universal themes of humanity and characters finding a way to bring satisfaction to their individual lives.

Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO BookClub
May 6, 2009
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "War is like a disease. Until you've had it, you don't know it." May 18 2009
By Jana L. Perskie - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
3.5 STARS. Kamila Shamsie's "Burnt Shadows" is a multigenerational, historical novel, spanning almost sixty years. The reader is taken back in time to Nagasaki, Japan, on that fateful day in 1945 when the second atomic bomb was dropped, resulting in 20,000 deaths and over 50,000 people wounded. The first bomb was dropped a few days earlier in Hiroshima. The plot and characters move on to the terrible violence of the Partition of British India, 1947, which leads to the creation of the sovereign states of Pakistan and the Union of India. Approximately 500,000 people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were slaughtered during the religious massacres which occurred then. The sweeping storyline carries the reader, along with a chain of characters, Japanese, British, American, Indian, Pakistani and Afghani, through the years, encompassing various personal and geopolitical events, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the mujahideen fighters who were taught by the CIA to repel the Soviet enemy, the brutal fighting and bombing of Kosovo, al Qaeda and the Taliban, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. The characters' lives are interwoven into these historical periods, as are their fates.

The book's recurring theme is man's inhumanity to man. If Death were a character here, how busy he/it would be, picking up souls from all the dead - their deaths needlessly caused by inhumanity and lust for power, riches and religious fanaticism. One wonders at those who have the power and the means to drop nuclear weapons which can destroy a city full of innocent people, and scar their descendents for generations to come. Again, one can only wonder at those with the power and means to draw borders between peoples to create artificial nations, which divide these same peoples further - by nationality, ethnicity and/or religion. And who are these people, with so much power, that they can devise and realize a heinous plan to fly airplanes into skyscrapers filled with fellow human beings?

The brief prologue is set in an unknown prison in the frist years of the 21st century. A young man is unshackled and told to strip. He suspects that he will soon be dressed in an orange jumpsuit. His body shrivels in the cold damp cell. This is an era of enhanced interrogation - torture. He wonders, "How did it come to this?"

We travel back in timer to Nagasaki, Japan. It is the summer of 1945. Hiroko Tanaka, a young schoolteacher living in Nagasaki, is in love with Konrad Weiss, a German artist and scholar who attempts to discover how Eastern and Western civilizations might live together in harmony. Hiroko speaks German and she met Konrad while translating for him soon after his arrival in Nagasaki. He came to Japan because his half-sister, Ilse, (Elizabeth), and her husband, James Burton, members of the British colonial community residing in Delhi, would prefer not to be associated with a German relative while WWII rages throughout Europe.

Hiroko believes that the war will end quickly, and soon she and Konrad will be together in a world where "there will be food and silk....and she will never have to enter a munitions factory or a bomb shelter again." As soon as the war ends "there will be a ship to take her and Konrad far away." She steps out onto her balcony, wrapped in a kimono with a design of three swooping black cranes on the back. "And then the world goes white!" The burned imprint of those cranes will remain on Hiroko's back for the rest of her life. And she does live, although seriously burned, ill with radiation poisoning, and a poisoning of the soul. Konrad, on the other hand doesn't make it. Hiroko is now a "hibakushi," a "bomb affectee," her new defining feature. Those nearest to the epicenter of the nuclear blast, like Konrad, were eradicated completely...."only fat from their bodies sticking to the walls and rocks around them" were left, "like shadows." Hiroko looks for Konrad's shadow and she finds it on a rock, or she finds comfort in believing it is his shadow. She rolls the rock to the cemetery and buries it there, along with her dreams.

Searching for a new beginning, Hiroko travels to Delhi two years later. There she enters the lives of Konrad's relatives, the Burtons. They accept her as Konrad's former fiancee, after doing a background check, of course. She also meets, Sajjad Ashraf, a young Muslim and legal apprentice who works for James Burton. He begins to teach her Urdu. The two eventually fall in love, despite the Burton's misgivings. Hiroko Tanaka is "Burnt Shadows'" protagonist and the reader views the new post WWII world through her eyes.

The threat, (or promise - depending on one's viewpoint), of Partition is ever present. Sajjad does not want to leave India, but the Burtons convince him to go with his new wife, Hiroko, to an old friend's house in Istanbul, Turkey, to keep safe until the violence subsides. When he tries to return to Delhi, however, the new Indian government won't let him back because the couple left during the Partition. Reluctantly, the Ashrafs move to Karachi, with Sajjad as a "mohajir," a derogatory term for refugees from India.

The plot becomes more complex as Raza, the Ashrafs' son, becomes involved with Afghani refugees and with the mujahideen who are fighting the Russians in the 1980's. It is at this time that the young man inadvertently becomes involved with the CIA. Harry Burton, son of James and Elizabeth, enters the story and also plays a prominent role.

As the various storylines surrounding the Burton and Ashraf families unfold, the years pass and the narrative moves between Pakistan, Afghanistan and New York City, with unforeseeable and lethal consequences. The surprise ending plays out in the months following 9/11. I don't want to include spoilers, but I was disappointed by the denouement. It seemed too hastily put together and I was left hanging in the air.

Although the author's prose occasionally reaches the poetic, the narrative is very slow at times, and the writing is uneven. As fascinated as I was by parts of the plot, I was very bored by others. I think Ms. Shamsie attempts to squeeze too much information into one book. I would have rated this novel 4 Stars, even with the literary shortcomings, but my boredom with major parts of the novel causes me to rate this with 3 or 3.5 Stars. I do recommend reading 'Burnt Shadows," especially for those interested in the historical period covered here.

Kamila Shamsie was born in 1973 in Karachi. Two of her previous novels, "Kartography" and "Broken Verses," have won awards from Pakistan's Academy of Letters. "Burnt Shadows" was a finalist for the Orange Prize.
Jana Perskie

Kartography
Midnight's Children: A Novel
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic masterpiece that belongs in every reader's library Nov. 19 2009
By Lauren Magnussen - Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
To read Kamila Shamsie's novel 'Burnt Shadows' is to receive a new pair of eyes, for the author writes in such a way that the world is revealed differently to us; history and culture are written so starkly and beautifully that we see events from a different perspective. Shamsie's strength is writing about modern warfare and the effects of it in a way that is lyrical but also unforgiving. The images the writer conjures are horrifying, in a way that is both enticing and repulsive. The work is inspired and epic, moving across country lines and time zones and periods fluidly without any narrative hiccups. Shamsie writes characters that are relatable without being sappy, and dark times that have no gray areas. Big ideas abound: what it means to live in this time, what toll warfare has on its recipients - and Shamsie seamlessly integrates minute detail with large philosophical questions and themes. This book has a place in every library of every reader: it challenges; it doesn't coddle. This novel makes the reader think, it does not tell them what they want to hear. And it is this quality that makes 'Burnt Shadows' such a spellbinding piece of fiction.
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