Book Talk: Kamila Shamsie's nuclear obsession underlies epic

Tue Jun 16, 2009 11:40pm EDT
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By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 anchor acclaimed Pakistani-born author Kamila Shamsie's epic novel -- a love story that also explores how mass killings are justified in terms of self-defense.

At almost 400 pages, "Burned Shadows," published in May, starts with the story of Hiroko Tanaka, a Japanese resident of Nagasaki whose world changes on August 9, 1945 -- her back is marked by burns shaped like the birds patterning the kimono she was wearing when the bomb dropped.

It ends some half a century later on the other side of the world, after journeying through British-administered India and Afghanistan, at a U.S. prison cell where a man suspected of terrorism is waiting to be sent to the infamous Guantanamo jail.

The book is London-based Shamsie's fifth novel, and a departure from her earlier, award-winning works such as "Salt and Saffron," "Broken Verses" and "Kartography" which have centered around her hometown Karachi.

The author who was long-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction spoke to Reuters recently about writing and the bomb:

Q: What inspired you to write such an ambitious book?

A: "I didn't know I was going to write an epic when I first started. I started around 2005 and went through until 2007. The original idea was that it was going to be a very short early section in Nagasaki and then the novel would be set in contemporary times and would very much be about India and Pakistan and the whole nuclear standoff.

But as soon as I started writing the Nagasaki bit, I became very interested in the character of Hiroko, and wanted to know what happens to her. I found I had written myself into a novel that was completely different than what I had started out to do."   Continued...