Burnt Shadows weaves an intricate web between two families over time, across countries, and through wars. This web protects and binds them in friendship and familial ties, despite any initial differences in race or class.
The book opens with the bombing of Nagasaki, to which Hiroko loses her fiancee and gains a gruesome understanding of nuclear war. She is haunted by a vision of her father covered in scales slithering toward her. Through fairy tales, she cannot even begin to impart on her son an understanding of the horror that humans so nonchalantly drop on one another. Her son, Raza, comes to understand the inhumanities that humans often endure through his own experiences.
The book spans five countries and 60 years to post 9/11 New York, where Hiroko witnesses the American patriotism that allows Muslims to be deported for not looking American enough or sad enough. Burnt Shadows allows for a deeper understanding of the hurt caused by war; it allows you to see people as humans, individuals who yearn for peace, and how some are so scared they would have anyone arrested without evidence in exchange for a feeling of safety and security.
Without being accusatory or preachy, Shamsie points out the ignorance of anyone who wants to just drop a bomb or fight a war when it is on another shore, another people, when it is not your family member in the crossfire. She gives the reader a deep understanding of the characters, their feelings and desires. The ideals of this book speak in more than one language, live within different cultures, and bring beautiful clarity to the ignorant shadows.
Burnt Shadows is beautifully written, encapsulating so much feeling, noticing details and painting poetic imagery. It is a lot to ingest, because of the way it gets inside of you and stays with you long after you read the last page. I very much enjoyed this book and wish it a large readership.