This is a short review of a new favourite novel, Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie and it is beautifully written. The story travels from Japan to America, over several decades and historical moments, and holds the power to make you smile, cry, and marvel at life and love.
Hiroko, the protagonist, is living in Nagasaki when the Americans drop a second nuclear bomb. She loses so much that day, and it marks her with burns in the shape of birds on her back. Two years later, she moves to Delhi where she meets Sajjad. They fall in love and in the wake of unrest in Delhi, they flee to Pakistan. They call Pakistan their home for 30 years, until political conflict upheaves Hiroko once more and she travels to New York, just after 9/11.
Hiroko is a strong woman, having experienced the worst atrocities life can throw at her. She remains true to herself, to her no-nonsense beliefs, and continues living, despite having witnessed more than a lifetime’s worth of conflict. Her story is not depressing, but moving in its fluid handling of borders, languages and homes.
Shamsie has crafted an exquisite tale that highlights how non-Western trauma has been marginalised in its representation. An action does not happen impartially, but with its own reason and history driving it.
The desire to sit down on the ground and weep was strong, but instead Hiroko stepped on to the verandah, and into another world.