By: Jennifer Russell
Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows follows the interwoven lives of two families as they live through what are now considered major historical events. As soon as I opened the novel and saw the date and location, I couldn’t stop reading. The novel begins with the story of two lovers on August 9, 1945 in Nagasaki — the day that the US dropped an atomic bomb there.
After the expected death of one lover, the story then follows the life of the other and her struggles with loss and with being a hibakusha (a survivor of the bomb). From start to finish, Shamsie illustrates the repercussions of war on individual families’ lives. The novel follows many historical events: from the dropping of the atomic bomb, to India’s unrest and eventual partition, to early Pakistan, to the United States and Afghanistan after 9/11.
While reading Shamsie’s story, you’ll find yourself suddenly worrying for the characters solely due to your own knowledge of history. You’ll be thinking, “Oh no, are they going to be there when that happens?” Yet the number of events compressed into one 370-page novel does not feel forced or far-fetched. This novel is a story of love, loss, and betrayal. It opens discussion about xenophobia, cosmopolitanism, and the experience of being a member of a diaspora. Overall, Burnt Shadows is a powerful novel that is guaranteed to surprise you in one way or another.
Word of advice: when you finish the novel, go back and read the prologue.