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)