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Burnt Shadows By Kamila Shamsie

The book Burnt Shadows is an inspiring love story that takes place during the post WWII forties in Japan. The main character is Hiroko Tanaka, a Japanese woman in love with a German officer. The book exposes many interesting aspects of how a victim of war circumstances can make a difference in people’s lives despite the stigma attached to her race and culture. The book shows us that we cannot generalize with people as a collective entity, but rather as individuals just like ourselves.

Hiroko as a victim

Because of Japan’s involvement with Germany during the Second World War, the country suffered great financial and societal loss. Hiroko is a victim of this and as such, is forced to leave her country of uncertainty and move to Delhi. Her German love interest, Konrad, has a married sister there and Hiroko finds a home amongst strangers. However, the dynamics of the home make for some interesting confrontations. Konrad’s sister, Ilse, is married to a man quite different to herself, and is therefore happy to have the Japanese woman stay with them.

Hiroko as a saviour

The effect Hiroko has on the household is significant to say the least. There is a servant in the house who takes an interest in Hiroko and the two slowly fall in love with each other. This causes additional friction in the home and the roles of Ilse and her husband are soon confused by the changes taking place. There are now political problems taking place between India and Pakistan and these circumstances bear heavy weight on the romance of Hiroko and the house servant, Sajjad.

Understanding the individual among her people

As a whole, the book tries to portray the characters as representatives of their respective nations, while still promoting the idea that they are individuals. Their choices stem from individual emotional reactions to the same everyday elements we are all faced with. At the end of the story the reader will feel a significant change in how he or she perceives various cultures. We are encouraged throughout the book to not generalize, but to relate to different ethnicities and cultures.

There are many values that can be taken from this book, albeit most of them are subtle. The story evolves into a dramatic series of events while still retaining its value outline. Although it is set in the forties, it is still a book that can be related to by today’s readers.