Review of Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows

There is something instantly likable about Kamila Shamsie’s characters. Hell, it’s even easy to fall in love with the central characters, like Raheen in Kartography, or Aasmani in Broken Verses (or for that matter Samina). But it’s one thing coming up with such characters, and another to actually weave a story around them that does justice to them, and to paint the canvas of their thoughts and emotions with intricate colors. With Shamsie, though, even that seems to come naturally.

It’s her third book that I have now read, and while the first two were rooted mostly in Pakistan, or more specifically, in the urban Pakistan, Burnt Shadows starts during second world war in Japan, and takes us around the globe, to India, Pakistan, America, and Afghanistan, with the story spanning three generations, and many nationalities.

Undoubtedly, this is her most challenging book, because of the scope of the canvas, and in parts it does seem to be weighed by those challenges. The story moves a little jerkily, unlike the ever smooth Cartography, and slow but sure Broken Verses — especially when the story moves away from India/Pakistan. But plot wise it still works overall. And after seeming like it’s going to drag and disappoint, it picks up again, and even as you’re anticipating this ending or that, Shamsie delivers. And in the hindsight, the most logical ending to this fascinating saga.

At the heart of it, though, is not the story, but relationships, and thoughts. The ideas of nationality, of belonging, of race, and prejudices. Of capacity to forgive, to understand the other, across borders, religions, races.

Going by the body count, it’s saddest of Shamsie’s books I’ve read so far, with death lurking around to take away the characters you’ve finally got to know, and love, but Shamsie does not let the reader or the characters to linger on in those losses, and keeps on moving, although, truly neither gets over them. It’s to the credit of the book, that despite all the sorrow, it’s not melancholic. Well not entirely, anyways.

Looks like, I can never have enough of Shamsie.

Verdict: Loved it. 4/5 stars.

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