Kamila Shamsie essential reading
The Pakistani-British writer’s finest works
Bringing vast sweeps of history alive in an urgent, emotional way with her finely-chiselled prose is the trademark of Kamila Shamsie’s short but vital oeuvre. The London-based Pakistani novelist made Granta’s latest list of 20 best young British novelists even while she was “climbing the Everest” of obtaining citizenship in the country. Here are the novels to get to know her by:
Raheen and Karim, upper-class Karachi children, are inseparable from infancy – their histories are braided together even since before their birth when each one’s father used to be engaged to the other’s mother until a “fiancée swap” during the East-West Pakistan civil war of 1971. In adolescence, they grow apart when they are sent away from Karachi to escape the growing tension; Karim becomes interested in cartography while Raheen becomes consumed with unearthing their parents’ unique ‘exchange’. With humour and tenderness, Shamsie evokes a country’s turbulence through the lives of two friends fated for love and despair. Kartography was nominated for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
Burnt Shadows (2009)
Shamsie’s most critically-acclaimed work, this generational novel charts the entwined history of two families, from the bombing of Nagasaki to the Partition to 9/11 New York and eventually, in a forceful climax, to US-bombed Afghanistan. The Weiss-Burtons and Tanaka-Ashrafs are connected by loss, love and tests of hard times. The ambition of the novel is dwarfed only by the author’s cool control of its many threads and an ending that will knock the wind out of you. Burnt Shadows won Shamsie an Orange Prize nomination.
A God In Every Stone (2014)
The author’s latest historical fiction is every bit the epic her previous works were. Set in the early 20th century, the novel takes a young Englishwoman through an archeological dig and love affair in Turkey, back to England when that love is snuffed out and World War I has broken out, and on to Peshawar later, still lovelorn, and having encountered a Pashtun soldier making the same journey on his return from fighting in Europe. The two like-minded comrades will meet again 15 years later, under fraught conditions once more, as the British cruelly rule Pakistan. Love, loyalty, friendship and the loss of faith are strong themes and the city of Peshawar comes alive in Shamsie’s hands. Read her travelogue about visiting the IRL city once she was done inventing it for this novel, in ELLE this month.
Kamila Shamsie is published by Bloomsbury India