Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Burnt ShadowsBurnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Is it possible to criticise a work of fiction for being… well, totally made-up? This book made me realise that although I love fiction, I crave the idea that the story is somehow plausible; that the events really COULD have occurred.

That’s precisely my gripe with this novel. Without wanting to give away spoilers, here is a brief summary: First of all, there is a woefully small cast of around 6 characters, between them representing almost as many nationalities.  All are in some way or other directly affected by the nucelar bombing of Nagasaki; the withdrawal of the British from India and the bloody conflict that followed partition; a Mujahadeen training camp during the Afghan-Soviet war; the simmering threat of nuclear war between Pakistan and India; ending finally with the bombing of the Twin Towers and the subsequent hunt for Osama Bin Laden (by “Private U.S. Security companies rather than the Military, of course). Yes, the Taliban feature, as do women shrouded in the veil; and an Afghan taxi driver in New York is thrown in for good measure. Did I mention CIA operatives feature prominently during the cold war? And Vietnam somehow gets a mention too. There are romantic & familial connections between the Japanese, German, British, American, Pakistani and Indian characters, spanning generations, predictably serving as a mechanism through which national identities are blurred and political allegiances can be challenged.

The worst part was getting to the last page, where the only two characters left provide a succinct, 200 word cringe-worthy summary of what the novel was about. They don’t spare us the patronising declarations about the futility of war and the politics of nationalism either. It was as if somehow the author thought I might not have been paying attention.


It probably won awards because despite my criticisms, its well written. But beyond that – it’s a mystery.

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