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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of this year's great reads
I was bowled over by this book, beautifully written from page 1, it was quite simply, wonderful. I can also add that, having just returned from discussing the book at a book group - all 8 of us were unanimous in our praise.

It has a huge canvas - from Nagasaki in 1945, through Partition in India, the 9/11 bombing and war in Afghanistan. Along the way it covers...
Published on 18 Aug 2009 by DubaiReader

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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, but somewhat lacklustre
An ambitious yet easy read, Burnt Shadows is a book I find hard to place. Despite dealing with heavy issues of war and politics, there is something strangely leightweight about it. The storyline spans fifty years and a large swathe of the planet. It's original and interesting, but not entirely convincing. The characters are rather flat and it's hard to get emotionally...
Published on 5 Dec 2009 by BookWorm


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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of this year's great reads, 18 Aug 2009
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
I was bowled over by this book, beautifully written from page 1, it was quite simply, wonderful. I can also add that, having just returned from discussing the book at a book group - all 8 of us were unanimous in our praise.

It has a huge canvas - from Nagasaki in 1945, through Partition in India, the 9/11 bombing and war in Afghanistan. Along the way it covers a multitude of subjects. These include the long term effects of radiation damage, training camps for the Muhajideen and the suspicions that fell on Muslim citizens in the US after the Twin Towers were attacked.

The characters were well drawn and very cleverly interwoven through several generations and across three continents.

I can see why some reviewers felt it attempted too much, the second half is pretty eventful. However, for me, the sheer joy of the beautiful language and (not excessive) descriptions, held me transfixed.

Very highly recommended - this could be my favourite book this year!
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, but somewhat lacklustre, 5 Dec 2009
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
An ambitious yet easy read, Burnt Shadows is a book I find hard to place. Despite dealing with heavy issues of war and politics, there is something strangely leightweight about it. The storyline spans fifty years and a large swathe of the planet. It's original and interesting, but not entirely convincing. The characters are rather flat and it's hard to get emotionally involved. There's a lack of subtlety, the author falling foul of the old adage to 'show and not tell'.

I found the best sections of the book to be those in Pakistan, and the story's conclusion, which was rather courageous and had a twist I wouldn't have expected based on the rest of the novel. The author's attempt to link the topics of modern day Islamic extremism, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and the British Raj and Partition, is certainly brave and deserving of credit.

Whilst I cannot rave about the book for the reasons described above, I did find it an intriguing read and although not gripped by it, it does move along at a good pace. It would actually be a good holiday read for those who can't bear very light fiction but don't want anything too demanding. Maybe the award nominations and back cover comments gave me overly high expectations; think of it as a historical romance with a literary bent and you're more likely to come away satisfied.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars overambitious but worthwhile, 18 Jan 2010
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This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
'Burnt Shadows' is set in three periods, 1947, 1983, 2001 and in several countries - Japan, Pakistan, Afghaistan and New York in particular, and traces the interconnections between the members of two families against the backdrop of major world events. This an involving and worthwhile read, and the ambition is laudable, but it falls down between too many stools. There seemed to be just too many characters, with little or no attempt to get under the skin of several of them. None of the Burtons convinced: both of the males were ciphers if not cliches, and nothing was made of Ilse's German origins,though the interaction of different nationalities and cultures is a major theme of the book. (I noticed that there were no German nor Japanese names amongst the individuals the author consulted). No particular insights seemed to be given into the major historical events that were encountered. The style seemed rather undistinguished, aspiring to 'fine writing' and imagery at times but often giving us clunky, unrhythmic, and poorly punctuated sentences. The evocation of different countries or cities was patchy, unsurprisingly better at Pakistan than elsewhere. However, Shamsie is an original devisor and manipulator of plots. The complex narrative moves along very efficiently - unlike some reviewers, I was especially gripped by the thriller-like final section and its surprising, if improbable, denoument. And there were a number of memorable images or epigrammatic remarks.
So, worth reading, but not superb, especially when compared with other writers on comparable territory - eg Nadeem Aslan, 'The Wasted Vigil'.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and very moving, 18 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
Burnt Shadows

Hiroko is newly engaged to Konrad when he is killed and she is injured by the Nagasaki nuclear bomb. Once sufficiently recovered physically, she travels to India to meet Konrad's family, James and Elizabeth. Hiroko is a gifted linguist and takes Urdu lessons from James' employee, Sajjad, to whom she becomes increasingly close, and marries, much to the disapproval of his family. At the time of partition, Sajjad's family, all Muslim, want to move to Pakistan, while he would prefer to stay in his beloved Dili/Delhi. He realizes that this may not be safe for Hiroko, as a foreigner who has been seen to be closely involved with the British, so moves away with her during the upheavals of partition, then, to his disappointment, is not allowed to move back to India post partition.

Hiroko and Sajjad's marriage is solid, a testament to their determination to give-and-take, and indeed to know when to give and when to take, and their sensitivity to and understanding of each other's cultures. This is so beautifully described that it could usefully be recommended reading for anyone considering marriage or a serious relationship. Very moving.

Disasters happen. Events ensure that Sajjad's family and Konrad's family stay forever linked. An elderly Elizabeth (now Ilse) and Hiroko rekindle their friendship. Raza and Harry are caught up in events in Afghanistan. Kim, post 9/11, worries for the safety of anyone she loves.

This is so beautiful!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great start. Shame about the ending, 19 Dec 2013
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
I began by loving this book. The writing was atmospheric and lured me in. But the further into the book I got the more it paled. The author tries to cover too many years, too much history in a book of relatively small size page-wise. Result - fails to truly capture the essence of the characters and it all ends up being convoluted and rushed. The astonishing multi multi lingual people in it seemed far fetched and invented only to get round quirks in the story where it would've been inconvenient or downright impossible for the action had not several characters been conveniently multi lingual in a wide variety on languages. I ploughed on hoping for a tremendous denouement only to feel as if the author, like me, had got bored by the end and wanted to make a swift exist. Complete and utter let-down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I thought this book would be more about Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the aftermath of the atomic bombings., 2 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
I have to say that although indisputably well-written I did not find this story 'achingly moving, breathtaking or absorbing.' It started well enough, but for me, the missing chunk of Hiroko's and Sajjad's life from when they married, to when Raza was seventeen was frustrating; there must have been more to their lives than just losing a daughter. I also found the story rather disjointed. The ending was very unsatisfactory and left the reader up in the air. I have no idea whether Raza would ever escape the clutches of the CIA, or if Hiroko could bring herself to forgive Kim for her impulsive action. Alas, this will not encourage me to read another Kamila Shamsie book in the immediate future.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overambitious project fails to translate into a coherent story, 25 May 2009
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
Shamsie is a talented writer, but she has overstretched herself by trying to knit together too many major historical events from different parts of the world and only partly succeeds in producing a coherent narrative.
What is the link between the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in World War II, the partition of India in 1947, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and America post- 9/11? They are the big events that affect two fictional families over three generations. It is where the Japanese-Pakistani Tanaka-Ashrafs and the British-German-American Burtons connect, separate, and then connect again. But for me the links between the two families sometimes felt contrived.

I identified with Hiroko in the beginning and was drawn into her story in Nagasaki and her life in Pakistan. But after her husband is killed around half way through the book, the plot seems to fall apart. The focus shifts to Hiroko's son Raza and the narrative changes gear, almost into a different genre, abandoning a more literary style (which Shamsie does well) in favour of intrigue involving the CIA and private security groups in Afghanistan. Compared to his mother Hiroko, Raza does not come alive for me, and the link between Raza Ashraf and Kim Burton is rather bizarre and not very convincing. In any case, the thriller genre does not appear to be Shamsie's forte.

With so many big events in the background, what should really be a longer story has been squeezed into 375 pages, jumping from one event to another and leaving large chunks for the reader to fill in from their own knowledge and imagination. The truly beautiful writing in the earlier part of the narrative is not sustained, and what is left is a dog's dinner of a plot.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, 2 Dec 2009
By 
H. Ashford "hashford" (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
There are several good reviews here, which I don't feel I can compete with. Suffice it to say that I found this book to be both lyrical in its writing, and more importantly (for me) to have depths of meaning that ask the reader to question their notions of love and loyalty and to ask themselves just what is it that makes life worth living.

The ending came as quite a shock to me (I was expecting more story, and I was expecting the end to be more upbeat), and once I had taken it in, I felt it was almost unbearably poignant.

This book isn't an easy book to read, but it well repays the reader the effort put in. It is one of my favourite books of 2009.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wanted just a little more, 7 July 2014
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This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Kindle Edition)
Kamila Shamisie can write beautifully and I enjoyed reading this book. However, I felt that such a long time span and such significant events required more time spent on them. The story follows a Hiroko Tanaka, a young Japanese woman from her experience of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki to post 9/11 via the partition of India. These experiences obviously have a profound effect on her but I never really felt that Shamsie explored this. Hiroko is an amazing woman but I would have liked to read more about her. However, the whole point of the story was to show the events that led up to the imprisonment of a young man over 50 years later. While the book demonstrates how our past and upbringing can bring unexpected and devastating consequences we just didn't have enough time to get to know the characters or understand why they behaved in the way they did. This book should have been a family saga but as a novel I didn't feel it delivered as much as it should have. Having said that, it will make a great discussion at any book club.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some amazing writing, but the plot was too ambitious, 30 April 2009
This review is from: Burnt Shadows (Paperback)
I can't describe the plot of Burnt Shadows better than the blurb on the back cover of the book, so I have copied it here:

August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanakasteps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love withthe man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes withthe sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi to find Konrad's relatives, and falls in love with their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from who she starts to learn Urdu.

As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history - personal, political - are cast over the entwined worlds of two families as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11.

Burnt Shadows is an epic book, spanning both generations and continents. There were many amazing sections in this book; the first chapter in particular was incredible, the subtle building of tension was brilliantly achieved, and the horror of the atomic blast, was sensitively written.

I loved the central character, Hiroko; she overcame so many tragedies, but remained a believable stalwart throughout. Some of her quotes were particularly thought provoking:

'Sometimes I look at my son and think perhaps the less we have to "overcome" the more we feel aggrieved.'

The female characters in the book were far superior to the male ones. They seemed to have a depth, and realness lacking in all the male ones.

My main grievance with this book was that the ambitiousness was too great; trying to capture so many different cultures in one book, led to too much explanation, at the expensive of the flow of the story. In many places the book came across as contrived. The plot seemed to have been forced around major historic events: Nagasaki, Indian Partition and 9/11. These events were so far apart, both in time, and distance that it didn't work for me. The credibility of the book just kept sliding away, the more I read. Would a 91-year-old lady really have travelled all the way from Asia to New York on her own, and then 'run around' New York like a person a quarter of her age?

Despite my criticisms there were many important issues raised by this book. The ambitiousness of this writing project deserves some recognition, and I wouldn't be surprised if this won the Orange Prize. I'll let you know once I've read all the other shortlisted books if I still think this is a contender.

Recommended for the first chapter, and a few other moments of genius, but be prepared to wade through some of the slower sections.
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Burnt Shadows
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Paperback - 5 Oct 2009)
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