Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

This was actually the book that the person who was once named The Non Reader, and has now become The Converted One (thanks to Books Psmith – Brighton Rock in the post) bought me quite a while back. In such an effort to find a book that I liked and didn’t own, The Converted One checked in all my TBR boxes and piles, on my shelves, even asked a few friends and then made sure the reviews in the press and some of my favourite authors quotes we all good before buying.. I have to say The Converted One’s research would have culminated into one of my favourite books of the year… only for the book to then turn up three days later in the post from the people at Bloomsbury! It’s the thought though that counts!

Burnt Shadows for me has been a complete and utter joy to read. In fact I could go as far as to say its one of the rare books that you pick up, devour, put down and then get itching to start at again. It’s going to be a hard book to review because there is so much to encompass and so much to praise but I will do my best.

The story follows possibly my favourite character of the year so far (and there have been a few contenders) Hiroko Tanaka on August the 9th 1945 in Nagasaki just before they dropped the bomb and ‘the world turns white’. Though Hiroko survives her German lover Konrad is killed. Two years later as India declares its independence she turns up on his half-sisters door step in Delhi with nowhere to stay and becomes attracted to their servant Sajjad and all this is in the first 60 pages. The book then follows Hiroko’s story and the story of people around her (that’s all I am saying trying not to plot spoil) through more pivotal times in history such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and America post 9/11.

Burnt Shadows as you can probably tell is an epic novel. However despite the subject matter, which is dealt with in a thought provoking, shocking, touching and yet tactful the book never feels heavy even though at times it is wrought with emotion. If I had one small complaint it would be that I could have read another 200 pages easily. In keeping the book just over 340 pages long Shamsie does hurry slightly towards the quite amazing climax.

Hiroko herself is an additional reason that you should read the book. A quirky sparky victim of her times at no one point does she ever complain she just keeps trying and hoping (this isn’t a woe is me tale because Shamsie doesn’t ever let it be) and most importantly observing. Some would say that to cover all the different era’s, cultures, and issues of this time span would be far too ambitious for any writer and yet I thought that Shamsie did this effortlessly, there must have been hours and hours of research that went into this book and without question it has paid off. I can unashamedly say that I think this is one of my favourite books of the year so far no question.

I don’t feel that I have written enough to justify what an amazing book it is, but then I don’t really think I could if I wrote for about ten pages of praise for the novel. I will simply say please read it. Do I think it could win the Orange Prize? Yes I do and part of me thinks that it definitely should however it has one contender which I haven’t reviewed yet which I think is the other most deserving winner and in fact I am hoping that both of these books make it onto the Man Booker list later in the year, but more of that another time…


Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Kamila Shamsie, Orange Prize, Review

7 responses to “Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

  1. farmlanebooks

    There are a lot of bloggers tipping this to win. It had odds of 7/1 last time I looked and was the Bookies least favourite. I am surprised that everyone thinks this should win. It would be third in my guesses of who would win (second favourite book though)

    I'm rooting for The Wilderness and am really pleased that you enjoyed it (I think that is the book you are referring to)

    My money would have been on Home (if the odds hadn't been so bad!) I didn't enjoy it, but the judges seem to love that sort of book as they put so many on the short list. I'll be interested to see who is right!

  2. megan

    I was so excited to read this review – Burnt Shadows is on my pile to be read this weekend, and based on the strength of the first chapter preview I read on the publisher's website, I can't wait.

    I just wish my copy had the same cover as yours! The Australian edition looks like that, but I think I ordered the American edition online. Oh well 🙂

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  4. Farmlanebooks pointed me to your review when I was saying on Twitter that I really didn’t like this book.

    There were parts in this book where I was riveted, and other parts where I thought the book would never end. I would probably have ultimately liked it if the ending had been more hopeful.

    I liked Hiroko all the way until the end, when I didn’t like how Kim felt forced to transport Adbullah over the border, and then Hiroko having the audacity to say Adbullah wasn’t a threat because she’d spoken to him for a day and a half. I’m not saying what Kim did was right, but I can’t fault her for it either.

  5. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

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