Burnt Shadows

Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.

Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.

Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.

Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),

Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).


Marching Out

March was one of those weird months. A few Nor’Easters. A few miles run. A few books read. We had two school closings in back to back weeks so that helped with the reading, but not the run. I finished the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race just two minutes off my time last year. Considering I didn’t train (again) I’m alright with that. There’s always next year! Here are the books:

Fiction –

  • The Good Son by Michael Gruber
  • Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
  • White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling
  • Witch World by Andre Norton
  • Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis

Nonfiction –

  • All the Way Home by David Giffels
  • Slide Rule by Nevil Shute

Series Continuations –

  • Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to finished the series started in honor of her birth month in January.
  • Entranced by Nora Roberts

Early Review for Librarything –

  • Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (started)
  • Infinite Hope – Anthony Graves

Poetry –

  • New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (not finished)

Fun – I’m not finished with either fun book so I won’t list them here.


The Good Son

Gruber, Michael. The Good Son. Read by Neil Shah. Blackstone Audio, 2010.

Reason read: The history of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan begins in March.

From the very beginning you cannot help but root for Theo. He is an ex-Delta soldier trying to be the sensitive tough guy while is mother is being held captive. But, he is only part of the story. Let’s talk about the mother, Sonia Laghari, for a moment. She, along with eight other members of a symposium on peace, have been kidnapped by armed terrorists. Being a deeply religious Jungian psychologist, Sonia becomes the leader of the abducted group. Using her knowledge of the kidnapper’s language and religion she uses her Jungian psychology to interpret their dreams if only to get in their heads. She wants to instill the premise that you can simultaneously hate the war but love the soldier. Despite her own life being in danger, she attempts to generate harmony to “protect” her fellow captives. A sort of reverse Stockholm syndrome. Meanwhile, in Washington there is a Vietnamese National Security translator listening in…The Good Son combines psychology, sociology, religion, and relationships into a thriller well worth the read.

Quotes to quote, “It is easier to tell the truth to the world than to people you love” (p 125) and “Hope and some slight relief from the worst are the best weapons of any tormentor; the torturer smiles and offers a a cigarette” (p 158).

Author fact: Gruber used to be a marine biologist, a restaurant cook and a federal government official. A man of many varying hats. He could be called one of the most interesting men in the world…

Narrator fact: Shah has appeared on the television series, Law & Order.

Book trivia: Due to the nature of Sonia’s character, be prepared for a few didactic moments as Sonia interprets the dreams of her captors and recites poetry.

Nancy said: Nancy called The Good Son a “riveting thriller” (p 214).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).


Marching with Words

The only run I have planned for March is St. Patrick’s Day. No surprise there. Here are the books planned for March:

Fiction:

  • The Good Son by Michael Gruber (AB) – in honor of the start of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
  • White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling – In honor of Dooling’s birthplace (Nebraska) becoming a state in March.
  • Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor – in honor of Saylor’s birth month in March.

Nonfiction:

  • All the Way Home by David Giffels – in honor of Ohio becoming a state in March.

Series continuations:

  • Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to continue the series started in January for Stark’s birth month. This will end the autobiography.
  • Entranced by Nora Roberts (EB) – to continue the Donovan Legacy started in February in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Early Review:

  • Infinite Hope by Anthony Graves

Poetry:

  • New and Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz – in honor of National Poetry Month.

If there is time:

  • Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer by Nevil Shute – in honor of the birth month of William Oughtred
  • Which Witch? by Andre Norton – to remember Norton (who died in the month of March).
  • Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis in honor of Reading Month.