A wide-ranging book, from Nagasaki to Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. This is a novel, however, so its focus is on individual people and what these events do to two intertwined families. The writing is delicious, and heartbreaking. Each character grows, or disintegrates, under the pressure of their lives. When the 2nd bomb is dropped, Hiroko watches her father and German fiance die, as the black cranes on her mother's kimono burn themselves onto her back, leaving terrible scars which have no feeling. After throwing herself into three years of chaotic life with Tokyo's GI's, she finally goes to Delhi to find her fiance's sister and brother-in-law. John and Ilse divorce and Ilse moves to NYC, where Hiroko finds restful home with her in old age. John wants to kick her out, but Ilse takes her in, feeling a human need to atone. Hiroko feels useless, but languages come easy to her, so she asks for a tutor in Urdu. Sajjad fall in love with her, they marry, and, after a late miscarriage due to her radiation sickness, she has a son who becomes the focus of her life. He is secretive, and it takes a long time for her to learn that he's a spy for the CIA, recruited by a family member. That doesn't stop Hiroko loving her son Raza, but it increases her fear for him, and "forces" him to lie to her because he loves her. The descriptions are intense and fully rounded, from the land to the training camps to the food to the stench of the slums. The people are just as fully described. A tour de force by a woman born in Pakistan, who has studied and taught in the US, and teaches in the UK. I'll read her other novels as well.
Ambitious and complex, this is the intersecting story of two families. Shamsie tackles big themes - cultural identity, the impact of war - in a thought-provoking way.
Rich with detail. An intelligent read. Shamsie successfully allows the reader to become intimately aware of each characters' nuances, culture and background by her ability to turn prose into a multi-layered painting. I loved the book.
Pakistani-born Shamsie has written an ambitious saga about the entwined lives of two families: the Tanaka-Ashrafs (Japanese and Urdu) and the Weiss-Burtons (German and English). This novel threads together world events, starting in 1945 with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki; moving to Delhi in 1947, with the departure of the British colonists and the partition of Pakistan; then to Afghanistan in 1982-83, where the mujahideen are battling Soviet occupation of their country; ending in New York in 2001-2, after the terrorists attacks that felled the World Trade Towers. An unforgettable, immensely powerful book.
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