Burnt Shadows is my first book by Shamsie and to be honest I’m still not really sure how I’m going to tackle it. On one hand it’s got an interesting plot and a nicely layered one as as well and yet there are many flaws which stopped me from enjoying this novel.
Hiroko is in love with Konrad Weiss, a German who is living in Japan during the mid forties. When Konrad dies due to the radiation of the atom bomb (Hiroko is badly scarred on her back), she decides to move to India and stay with Konrad’s half sister and husband, James Burton. During this visit she falls in love with the Burtons houseboy Sajjid. It is also during the time when Pakistan was created and the Muslim/Hindu riots are taking place. Eventually a misunderstanding leads to Sajjid being kicked out of the Burton household. Despite this he marries Hiroko and they are forced to live in Pakistan.
The next part of the book takes place during Pakistan in the 1908’s. Hiroko and Sajjid have been happily married and are both in their sixties and now have a 17 year old son called Raza. Unfortunately Raza has failed his final exams in order to attend law school so as an act of rebellion he befriends Abdullah he joins (and is rejected from) an Afghanistan training camp. In the meantime the Burton’s son Harry returns to visit Sajjid but an argument gets him banished from Sajjid’s house.
We jump again and it is 2002. Sajjid is dead, James Burton is dead and Raza now works in the CIA with Harry Burton. Hiroko is living in New York with Harry’s daughter and his mother Elizabeth. Raza’s past comes to haunt him in the shape of Abdullah and Kim in a fit of post 9/11 paranoia reports him. Thus ends the novel.
Burnt Shadows is definitely ambitious but I felt that Shamsie wanted to write a novel that would appeal to everyone so although she does mention important events that shaped history she does not go into much detail. These are just mentioned and skimmed through. It is true that events such as the atomic bomb does shape the destiny of each character but if there was more depth it to a better plot development.
At times I felt that a movie was in the mind as well. There are some passages in the book which read like film scripts, plus Shamsie’s english is not engaging. It is simply functional. It took me a while to absorb the book.
As for the good side, all characters are fleshed out and there weren’t any predictable moments. and it did not drag in the least but lacked something to make it a truly special read.
So I would approach the book with a bit of caution. There’s a lot of unfulfilled potential!