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Review: Burnt Shadows

September 1, 2009

Burnt Shadows

When Hiroko Tanaka was 21, she was living in Nagasaki and engaged to be married to Konrad Weiss.  Things were difficult for them, though,  because it was 1945 and people were leery of Konrad because he was German.  When the atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Hiroko’s life is changed forever – she lost the love of her life and she is emotionally and physically scarred for life.

Hoping to forget the past and start all over, Hiroko immigrated to India a few years later.  She stayed with Konrad’s half-sister and her family and meets and falls in love with Sajjad Ali Ashraf.  Against impossible odds, Hiroko and Sajjad got married and made a life for themselves, through good times and bad.

It is really hard to write a synopsis of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie without giving too much of the story away.  The book starts out slow, and although the pace really doesn’t pick up much, I found myself drawn to the book after a few chapters.  Hiroko is such a strong female character and I really admired her ability to re-invent herself and her life when she needed to.  She never told her son about her experiences in World War II because she wanted to protect him, but then he ended up getting caught up in some militant activity and she said,

I wish now I’d told Raza.  Told everyone.  Written it down and put a copy in every school, every library, every public meeting place.  But you see, then I’d read the history books. Truman, Churchill, Stalin, the Emperor.  My stories seemed so small, so tiny a fragment in the big picture.

Passages like that really made me reflect on the past and the importance of remembering and learning from mistakes. It also reminded me that every person’s story is important.

I also learned a lot from Burnt Shadows.  I’m kind of embarrassed to say I knew next to nothing about Pakistan and how it was formed and why there’s so much unrest in the area.

Burnt Shadows is really the story of two families whose lives are intertwined through the years and in five different countries and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about their triumphs and tragedies.  My thoughts are inadequate to describe how much is in this book and the beauty of its words.  Here’s a clip of Kamila Shamsie talking about the book:

Michael of A Few Minutes with Michael sent me this  fascinating link about the book’s cover design.

Review copy provided by Picador.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2009 6:37 am

    I can’t tell you how many times I have almost bought this book, but something always holds me back. May be next time I’ll buy it, it’s a very unusual story.

  2. September 1, 2009 7:42 am

    Like Violet, this book has really piqued my interest more times than I can count. Thanks for the review, I think next time, I finally pick it up!

  3. September 1, 2009 7:50 am

    Like Violet and Kelly I’ve considered this book and set it back down. I like your explanation of the book even though you say you had a hard time explaining it. At least I get it. Sometimes the synopsis on book jackets don’t pull me in. This one didn’t but your review and the video succeeded.

  4. September 1, 2009 8:14 am

    Great review! It’s such a rich, complex story! I probably should re-read it because I think I only scratched the surface!

  5. September 1, 2009 9:01 am

    This sounds like a good one for the WWII challenge. I’ll get it up on War Through the Generations soon.

    I like how it spans years and shows how the war can have long-lasting effects. Well, at least that’s what it seems like from your review, as I haven’t read it yet. 😉


  6. September 1, 2009 9:20 am

    Wow…multi-cultural and multi-generational. What a project. I thank you for including the clip with the author. It makes all the difference to me and whether I buy the book when I can get a sense of the spirit of the author.

  7. September 1, 2009 9:37 am

    What a unique story! I haven’t heard of it, so thanks for the review!

  8. September 1, 2009 10:00 am

    I bought this a couple of months ago and wish I’d gotten to it already! Can someone freeze time and just let me read?

  9. September 1, 2009 11:53 am

    Thanks for your review. This book sounds intriguing. There’s an interview with this author on Shaila Abdullah’s site, which is excellent.

  10. September 1, 2009 12:19 pm

    Great review 🙂 I think I may have to put it on my TBR list!

  11. September 1, 2009 12:25 pm

    Great choice for reviewing today, start of WWII.

  12. Carol permalink
    September 1, 2009 1:06 pm

    Hiroko sounds like such a strong character, a woman who really is able to start over, find love again, after having her life shattered.

  13. stacybuckeye permalink
    September 1, 2009 1:25 pm

    It looks good and I would be interested in learning more about the history of Pakistan as well.

  14. September 1, 2009 1:35 pm

    This one just looks awesome.

  15. September 1, 2009 1:47 pm

    I must admit to not knowing anything about Pakistan either. It sounds like a powerful book.

  16. September 1, 2009 1:48 pm

    My Mom called be asking if I had this one–she lived in Japan in the 1950s and she really wanted to read it. I had just gotten my ARC, so I sent it to her. She loved it! But I just got it back and haven’t had time to read it myself. Your review & that video both make me so interested…I’ll have to bump it to the top of my pile.

  17. September 1, 2009 2:28 pm

    Great review! Sounds like one that will really make you think about your own life.

  18. September 1, 2009 2:37 pm

    Added this to my must read list, sounds like an awesome read!
    I also have an award for you!!!

  19. September 1, 2009 3:11 pm

    This is just the type of book I like to read. I don’t think I’ve heard about it before until now. I’m going to add it to my list to books to look out for!

    Don’t feel bad about not knowing much about the history of Pakistan/India– I didn’t myself until I re-read “A Suitable Boy” a few months ago which takes place during the time era of the partition.

  20. September 1, 2009 3:13 pm

    I should have said “until a few months ago, when I reread A Suitable Boy”. The way I worded that makes it sounds like the history all just happened a few months ago! duh…

  21. September 1, 2009 3:28 pm

    Excellent review Kathy. I read this one some time back, and though it was good, I wasn’t as enthisiastic about it as you were. I’m glad u loved it!

  22. September 1, 2009 3:41 pm

    I’ve never heard of this book before, but it sounds very good.

    Love the review.

  23. September 1, 2009 3:43 pm

    I read this a few months ago and thought it was a really great read. The only thing that I had an issue with was the fact that there was just so much going on plot wise, it felt like a little packed. That was a small complaint though. Overall it was a really good book. I thought the ending was really shocking as well. Great review!

  24. September 1, 2009 5:14 pm

    I know a little bit about Pakistan, but not very current. I lived in Europe for a few years and during H.S. I had a friend who was an exchange student from Pakistan. Still, that was a number of years ago.

  25. September 1, 2009 6:12 pm

    You’re right in that this book is going to be so hard to sum up in a review! You did a great job. I’m still thinking how to compose mine.

  26. September 1, 2009 6:36 pm

    You’ve been tagged!

  27. September 1, 2009 8:23 pm

    Great review! I’ve this book in my pile and I look forward to reading it. Isn’t the cover lovely? 🙂

  28. September 2, 2009 9:28 am

    I can’t wait to finish this one. The writing is wonderful.

  29. September 2, 2009 9:54 am

    Great review. I wrote mine yesterday and had a lot of trouble – you did it justice!

  30. justicejenniferreads permalink
    September 2, 2009 11:11 am

    This book sounds amazing – unique and powerful. I love the passage that you shared. I agree with you that looking back on the past and learning from our mistakes is extremely important and it’s wonderful to find a book that reminds people of this.

  31. September 2, 2009 4:01 pm

    Never be embarrassed!! That’s part of the joy of reading….learning new things and adding to our knowledge. I want to read this book just because of your statement because I know next to nothing about Pakistan. Lovely review 🙂

  32. September 3, 2009 12:55 am

    What a great review, Kathy! This is a book I have been meaning to read since I first heard about it. It sounds like such a meaningful book.

  33. September 3, 2009 11:11 am

    This book is on my wish list. Kathy, you did a nice job of describing the story, peaking my interest, without giving too much away. I like the idea that I can learn about Pakistan — I really don’t know anything either. And I very much like the quote you chose — it’s those “tiny” personal stories that have the most impact and remind us that there are individual people behind the headlines. Nice work!

  34. September 8, 2009 1:14 am

    Wow. The idea behind the book is truly amazing. Sounds beautiful yet sad. I hope it ended well!

  35. December 8, 2009 12:07 pm

    We posted your review on War Through the Generations.


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