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Burnt Shadows


Burnt Shadows

This engrossing novel of the intersections and intertwining of
two quite different families begins on the morning of August 9,
1945, the day Nagasaki will be bombed. Konrad Weiss is a German who
has been sent away from the Delhi home of his British
brother-in-law and sister, James and Ilse (now called Elizabeth)
Burton. He has made his own home in Nagasaki for seven years,
living in the abandoned house of a distant relative. On this day,
like every day, he is thinking of Hiroko Tanaka, who began as his
translator but later became the love of his life.

When the air-raid siren goes off, Hiroko and Konrad spend time
in separate shelters. Konrad's is empty until a man named Yoshi
Watanabe enters. Yoshi was once Konrad's friend, but when Germany
surrendered and Konrad became a suspicious character, everyone but
Hiroko quit speaking to him. Today, though, he tells her about the
bombing of Hiroshima three days before. Konrad, positive that the
factory Hiroko works in will be bombed, doesn't wait for the "all
clear." Instead, he runs to find her, finally locating her on the
porch of her house.

Hiroko's father is away from the house, so she invites Konrad
in. He proposes to her and she accepts. When they embrace, Hiroko
believes she has found true peace. Their kiss is intense, and
Hiroko invites him to stay to explore further intimacy, but Konrad
resists. As he leaves, they trade promises of their future life
together. Hiroko, overcome, rushes to her room and slips into a
silk kimono imprinted with three black cranes flying across the
back. She steps out onto the veranda, not knowing that he is
thinking her nameā€¦and at that moment, their world is

Hiroko visits Elizabeth and James Burton in Delhi in 1947. She
had heard so much about Konrad's sister and brother-in-law from
Konrad that it seems inevitably right to travel to see them when
she has the opportunity to leave Japan, where she can no longer
bear to live. Hiroko is marked by the bomb that destroyed her world
in many obvious and more subtle ways; she even bears black
crane-shaped scars across her back.

Elizabeth insists that Hiroko stay with them, despite her
husband's initial misgivings about the stranger. Hiroko is
sensitive to the strained relations between James and Elizabeth,
which appears to have worsened when James insisted their son be
sent away from India to boarding school in England. At the Burton
home, Hiroko also meets Sajjad Ali Ashraf, a young man originally
introduced to James by Konrad. Sajjad is supposedly learning how to
become a lawyer (and in reality does read James's law books on his
own time). Mostly, though, he is a companion of sorts to James,
playing endless games of chess with him. Hiroko finds that she can
speak to Sajjad about her deepest emotions and most guarded

Hiroko, the Burtons and Sajjad have no way to imagine how
intertwined their families will grow. Their lives, along with those
of their loved ones, play out across India, Pakistan and
Afghanistan, and finally into New York in 2002. Their story gives
readers the chance to discover a wealth of experiences far from
most of our own lives. Yet we remain in tune with each character,
and so involved that we can barely put the book down.

BURNT SHADOWS is not just another riveting page-turner; it is
unique, unforgettable and gorgeously written. The plot, which is
both uplifting and devastating, has impact. This complex
examination of human nature is powerful enough to make us question
our own assumptions and worldview.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 26, 2010

Burnt Shadows
by Kamila Shamsie

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312551878
  • ISBN-13: 9780312551872