Hiroko steps out on to the verandah. Her body from neck down a silk column, white with three black cranes swooping across her back. She looks out towards the mountains, and everything is more beautiful to her than it was early this morning. Nagasaki is more beautiful to her than ever before. [...]
And then the world goes white.
Diasporic writers originating from South Asia and the Indian subcontinent are sweeping the world. Kamila Shamsie, a Pakistani author educated in America and living in London, follows in the footsteps of Khaled Hosseini and others, as she writes about Afghanistan and Pakistan to a European and American audience. Her most recent novel, Burnt Shadows, has already become an international phenomenon.
Shamsie is a great storyteller and an ambitious writer. Her novel manages to cover the atomic bomb in Nagasaki in 1945, the independence and partition of India in 1947, the rise of the mujahideen in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s, and finally the 9/11 attacks in New York and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. The one character who is present during all these historical turning points is Hiroko, a Japanese woman who escapes Nagasaki and comes to India to witness the last moments of British colonial rule.
The first half of the novel is a riveting read, despite the occasional lapses to strange sentimentalism and descriptions that you would expect to find in harlequin romances (seriously, making love on a blanket in a secluded grove?!). The second half of the novel was disappointing. The plot strays all over the place, trying to follow each character, but focusing on no-one in particular.
By the end, the entire story has become so unrealistic that you almost hope that it would just end. There are a few exciting moments of suspense, but the ending is incredibly frustrating.
Kamila Shamsie: Burnt Shadows. Bloomsbury. 2009.
Guardian: "When worlds collide"
Wikipedia: Kamila Shamsie