Search Results for: "by kamila shamsie
Oh, how sad to think this is the very last book by Shamsie I had left to read … I actually stopped for a few days thinking I might savor it bit by bit, having been told by Shamsie herself last weekend at SALTAF 2009 that she hadn’t even started her next title because she was going to too many festivals all over the world. Oh, the irony, the irony … to think we hunted her down to come to the Smithsonian and now we’ll have to wait that much longer for her next volume!
But back to Kartography. At its core, Shamsie’s novel is a wrenching love story. Raheen and Karim, introduced to one another almost at birth, are destined to grow up intertwined, the very best of friends. Their parents are a seemingly carefree, laughing foursome who have a long history together. Raheen’s father was once engaged to Karim’s mother, while Raheen’s mother was paired with Karim’s father, until everyone magically realized who really belonged with whom … and everyone was supposed to live happily ever after …
As Raheen and Karim enter adolescence, their home city of Karachi, Pakistan is in dangerous turmoil. Concerned for their safety, the parents send the two to stay with old friends in the country. There Raheen starts asking questions she is not prepared to hear the answers to … but a shift happens in her perception of an idyllic past and she is right in suspecting that all the lightness and good humor of her happy young life is about to collapse.
Karachi is no longer safe, especially for Mujahir, or immigrants. Reminders of the horrors of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani/Bangladesh Liberation War – which the four parents somehow survived without too many visible scars – threaten to resurface as violence escalates. Karim’s family moves to London – Karim leaves Raheen with a map of their lives together in hopes of keeping them connected. For seven years, they remain separated by distance, not only in miles but by their own emotional stupor over their loss of one another. Karim’s parents’ marriage fails. Raheen leaves Karachi for college in New York. Karim – who continues to use maps to order his world – wanders the globe.
When the two are finally reunited in Karachi for the engagement of one of their closest mutual childhood friends, misunderstandings continue to keep them apart. Again, Karachi’s streets are anything but safe. Secrets threaten to sever all hope of reunion until memory by memory, landmark by landmark, the lovers must figure out – through their Karachi Kartography and beyond – their way back together again.
Kartography marks a turning point in Shamsie’s writing. The effortless cleverness of her first two novels, In the City by the Sea and Salt and Saffron, has matured into deeper, intense emotions that begin here and continue through Broken Verses, although moments of clever humor have certainly not disappeared in either. Her writing is addictive in its ability to simultaneously break your heart and make you laugh – no pain, no gain, right? But the book that takes your breath away, that will continue to haunt you long after, remains Burnt Shadows. You should have been in the audience last weekend when Shamsie mesmerized all. She really did save the best for last. For now, anyway … but hurry up with that next book, already!
Published: 2002, 2003 (United States) Continue reading
Kamila Shamsie’s debut novel is now the same age as her first protagonist, 11-year-old Hasan, the only child of a lauded artist and a once powerful lawyer. The trio live surrounded by extended family and friends in ‘the city by the sea’ of Karachi, Pakistan. Up on his roof one afternoon, enjoying his favorite pomegranate, Hasan cheers with great excitement as the sea breezes catch the yellow kite of another young boy a few rooftops away. The delighted flyer watches his colorful dancing speck rather than his own footing, and plummets to his tragic death.
Hasan shrinks into silent denial … and tragedy begets more tragedy as his idyllic existence crumbles. His beloved uncle Salman, once a powerful political force, has endured house arrest surrounded by entertaining family members who indulge him his silly jokes and his love of pine cones. But suddenly, he is arrested and disappears. His reeling family has 40 days to figure out how they might save him. Hasan, imaginative and obsessed, is convinced that if he can only figure out what Salman’s spirit wants, he can win his precious uncle’s freedom.
Shamsie somehow manages to effortlessly mix Shakespeare, The Wizard of Oz, and Turkish prison poems into a whimsical prose that never fails to entertain, even in light of tragic death and unjust political persecution. Her characters both haunt and delight. Whether mourning or celebrating, Shamsie is just so surprisingly clever, you can’t put her good books down.
Published: 1998 (United Kingdom) Continue reading
First an interruption: I learned a very entertaining meaning for a certain common(-ish) word on the first page of Shamsie’s second novel: ‘bugaboo.’ “It’s a word that demands to be said out loud,” writes Shamsie, “particularly among bilingual Pakistanis who recognize its resemblance to ‘baghal boo’ or ‘armpit odour’, but its meaning ‘object of baseless terror’ makes it misleading in this conversation.” I have to add – isn’t it so ironic that those trendy, overdesigned, overpriced but greatly colored strollers of the same name, Bugaboo, translate into ‘objects of baseless terror,’ much less ‘armpit odour’? I just couldn’t stop laughing …
Bugaboo is also at the center of this complicated extended family tale that ultimately proves to be a simple love story. Aliya, a Pakistani elite on her way home to Karachi via a cousin-visiting stopover in London from her American university, meets a young man in-flight and eventually comes to realize that he just might be Prince Charming. But because un-royal Cal, who is actually Khaleel, is of a family that is hardly comparable to Aliya’s venerable, aristocratic, timeless Dard-e-Dil clan, he becomes Aliya’s bugaboo … at least until the novel’s final page.
In between, Shamsie writes cleverly of the memorable, entertaining, frustrating Dard-e-Dil ancestors (a much-needed family tree precedes even the first page in the novel!), with Aliya being the supreme storyteller who is not quite certain of her own story. Aliya must make peace with her estranged grandmother, her missing aunt who is also her “almost-twin,” her British sort-of aunt and cousin, before she can finally allow herself to let that bugaboo-baseless terror go and receive true love, even if it originates from the wrong neighborhood, the wrong family, but seemingly the right man …
Tidbit: Don’t forget … Shamsie is coming to SALTAF 2009! That’s Saturday November 7, 2009, just two weeks away. Don’t miss your opportunity to meet her in person. She’ll be talking about and reading from one of my absolutely favorite novels, her latest title, Burnt Shadows.
Published: 2000 (United States) Continue reading
I’m getting on the Shamsie-bandwagon a little late … and backwards, not surprisingly. Since she’s coming to the Smithsonian this fall for SALTAF 2009 (and might I repeat how thrilled we are!), I figured I better finish her titles before she gets here!
Like her latest, Burnt Shadows, Broken Verses is another multi-layered book. Aasmaani is a sad, lost young woman, still searching for elusive answers about her life, about her family, as she enters her 30s. Her mother, Samina, who was quite possibly Pakistan’s greatest feminist activist, disappeared 14 years ago without a trace, much less a farewell note of any kind for her abandoned daughter. Two years previous, Samina’s lover, known by most as simply ‘The Poet’ because of his heart-stopping literary prowess, was reportedly tortured and murdered by the unstable government.
Aasmaani’s leftover family – father, stepmother, and sister – as beloved as they are, cannot keep her lonely suffering away. Then most unexpectedly, Samina’s best friend Shehnaz, a legendary actress about to make her filmic comeback, presents Aasmaani with a puzzling note, written in the secret code that Samina and the Poet shared. Shehnaz’s mysterious son, recently returned from NYC post-9/11, plays the enigmatic messenger. Against all logic, Aasmaani begins to believe that the Poet might be alive, perhaps even her mother, as well. And so the unrelenting quest begins …
Published: 2005 (United States) Continue reading
Even though it’s only April (and the book doesn’t even hit stands until next month), I’m announcing with absolute certainty that Burnt Shadows gets my unwavering vote as THE Book of the Year. I’ll only be too happy to eat my words because that can only mean more great future reads, but I’m not holding my breath that another title will unseat Shamsie’s latest novel anytime soon.
Imagine the literary accomplishment – such poetic audacity, even! – of recounting one couple’s impulsive decision to wed, her conversion to Islam, their mosque-blessed union, their first-ever lovemaking in the warm falling rain, and their return to the house they left in such a flurry just a few hours earlier, juxtaposed line by repetitive line of how many times (17) the husband-half of the other couple voices aloud to his waiting wife, “Where do you think they are?”
Or how about the heartbreaking irony of capturing the custom in one farming village in Afghanistan – at least before war decimated the once fertile country – that a boy is recognized to be a man when his growing hand can finally hold a pomegranate in its entirety within … and yet even before that hand is large enough to hold the ripened sweet fruit, it already knows too well how to hold and fire an AK-47 without remorse.
The book is filled with such moments of beauty and desperation, of joyful anticipation and the most horrific inhumanity. It’s a story of three generations of two intertwined families, each of the family members inhabiting, discarding, and adapting to a vastly international cross-section of histories and cultures.
In Nagasaki just on the eve of the end of World War II, Hiroko Tanaka has lovingly agreed to marry Konrad Weiss, a German ex-pat intellectual now reviled by the same community that once welcomed him as an equal ally. Too soon Nagasaki becomes a symbol of great sacrifice where lives must be destroyed in seconds, ironically for the sake of future peace. Hiroko survives, but is marked forever by bird-shaped shadows of death – the design of the kimono she was wearing that is literally burnt onto her back in the instant the second atom bomb detonated.
She travels to India, where she might find, amazingly enough, the only connection to her former life. She arrives in Delhi at the home of Konrad’s older half-sister and her British husband, a privileged representative of the British Raj, now waiting for Partition which will send them all ‘home.’ There the initial contact between these two disparate families is cemented …. and more than half a century later, in the heated aftermath of 9/11, their three-generation relationship will have to face some of the most heartbreaking man-made consequences once again.
Burnt Shadows is one of those books that the less you know about, the more you’ll appreciate as you discover its intricacies on your own. So I shall not include spoilers here. I’ll just be the one to insist you must absolutely read this book! Lucky for us that most book sites let you pre-order: QUICK, open a new window and reserve your copy NOW.
Published: 2009 Continue reading