We’re already three days into August and I’ve yet to write my wrap-up post for Orange July 2011! I joined this event in the hope of reading a 2009 shortlisted Orange Fiction book. I had found it rather a difficult read, and I quite despaired of ever finishing it. I managed to, though, nearly two weeks ago.
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
The story is about a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing of 1945. Hiroko Tanaka looses everyone she knows and loves, but has the strength to move on. She travels to Delhi, in India, where she knows she will find her dead fiance’s sister, Elizabeth, and her family. Elizabeth immediately welcome Hiroko and begins to treat her like she was indeed her sister. With Hiroko’s flare for languages, she seeks to learn Urdu from the family employee, Sajjad Ashraf. They fall in love, but the whole chaos that erupts from the partition of India, renders them exiles and they are forced to live in Pakistan after they get married. There is a time loop and they come to the period of the Cold War. Beneath the surface there are factions rising in Pakistan, and the son of Hiroko and Sajjad, gets involved at the age of sixteen. Circumstances cause him to lose someone he loves because of his unwitting involvement in the war. Again, there’s a time loop to a few months after the September 11 bombing in New York. We see a Hiroko nearing her ninetieth year, as she dwells with her old friend, Elzabeth, and her grand-daughter, and their sons are involved in a dangerous game of life.
While the story itself was captivating, it was not captivating enough when the language was rather dry. I found that the characterization was rather shallow. There was not a single character that I could relate to on any level. And at some point, the novel began to read as an action novel, with none of the literary quality one would expect in a piece of proclaimed literature. The end of the book takes a rather unexpected turn. There is a sense of completeness and incompleteness; the former in the life of Hiroko and the latter in the suggestion of so much more that could happen. And yet, with all that takes place in this one woman’s life, we get pieces of interesting commentary on the effects of war, but nothing from Hiroko’s emotional experience itself.
On goodreads I’ve given the book three stars because of its rather speechless end. Otherwise it had really been courting a two-star rating from me.