Nagasaki, 9 August 1945. Hiroko Tanaka, daughter of a traitor, stands on her balcony watching the man she is to marry walk into infinity as her world turns upside down at the explosion of the second atomic bomb. Her souvenir: the three black cranes of the wedding kimono forever burnt onto her back.
Delhi, 1947. James Burton, an English colonialist, awaits the end of Empire.
Pakistan, 1982. Hiroko, now married to a Muslim Indian, has a son who, unable to complete his high school exams, starts playing with fire.
New York, 11 September 2001. James’s American granddaughter, a structural engineer, starts the process of rebuilding.
Worlds sway as these people from different nations and sensibilities are tied by a familial connection evolving from Hiroko, whose German fiancé was half-brother to James’s wife. They cross each other’s lives in love and adversity, leaving lasting impressions as bodies eradicated leave burnt shadows on stone.
Kamila Shamsie has written a compelling story which encompasses the past sixty years of major world events, showing how divided a place our planet has become. Nations are suspicious of each other’s motives when terror and betrayal give limited hope for a peaceful future.
The author has richly defined her characters, showing all their traits and foibles. With imagination she blends them into the historical background as the individual lives unfold down the decades but, although there is a sense of historical time, Burnt Shadows has more the feel of an elegant and well-crafted modern novel.