Whitley Bay Book Group: Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

I was impressed that so many people had come out on such a cold and dark November evening for our meeting this week, including Rosie, who came along for the first time.

We talked about Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, an ambitious and multi-layered story which opened in Nagasaki on the day the bomb dropped, and ended in New York shortly after 9/11, with the intervening sections set in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  It covered many big themes, the legacy of empire, especially the British empire, the impact of international politics, gender, race, generational relationships and cultural politics, and yet also introduced a small cast of characters whose intertwined lives were described in sufficient detail for us to get to know each one.

Its fans enjoyed the beautiful writing, imagery and descriptions; the strong female characters, especially the feisty and adventurous Hiroko, and their relationships with each other; the strong sense of a shared humanity; and the fact that the book challenged common assumptions and stereotypes.

Several, tho not all, felt it was a book of two halves, and that the second half, being rather more political, was less interesting and involving, altho it was noted that the refugee experience was very movingly described.  Some felt the male characters were generally not as strong, nor as likeable as the female ones, with the exception of Sajjad. A couple of members also felt that the book was too strongly anti British and American.

Many members said they would have liked the book to have been longer, so the issues it raised could have been explored in even greater depth.  Overall it was a popular book, and came away with a rating of 3.6 out of 5*.

Next month we are meeting elsewhere for our Christmas meal, and the booking details have now been finalised.  Normal meetings will resume in January, when we will talk about Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney, and decide on our next set of books, which, when chosen, will take us up to the summer break – what a thought!