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Burnt Shadows Summary & Study Guide

Shamsie, Kamila
This Study Guide consists of approximately 42 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Burnt Shadows.
This section contains 768 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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Burnt Shadows Summary & Study Guide Description

Burnt Shadows Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Burnt Shadows by Shamsie, Kamila.

The following edition of this book was used to write this study guide: Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. Picador, 2009. Paperback.

Burnt Shadows is a historical novel that takes place across four dramatically different generations and locations in the 20th century. In the beginning of the book, a one-page prologue, a man sits naked in a jail cell and wonders how his life has taken him to that point. The first of the four major sections, titled “The Yet Unknowing World” takes place in Nagasaki, Japan, on the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. A German man named Konrad Weiss proposes to Hiroko Tanaka, a young woman he had met as a translator, and she accepts. However, Weiss is almost immediately killed by the blast, as he does not make his way to a shelter quickly enough.

The second section of the book takes place in Delhi, India, in 1947. Hiroko visits the city knowing that Konrad’s sister, Ilse, lives there with her British husband, Jacob Burton, during the British occupation of India. While Jacob is uncomfortable with the houseguest, Ilse charitably wants to take Hiroko in. During the several months that Hiroko lives there, she falls in love with Jacob’s legal assistant, Sajjad Ashraf, and they eventually marry. When they attempt to return from their honeymoon, however, Hiroko and Sajjad are prevented from re-entering India, and decide that they will build their life in the newly created neighboring country of Pakistan.

The third section of the book starts 35 years into Hiroko and Sajjad’s marriage in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1982. While Sajjad has been forced to give up his aspirations of working in law, and instead helps run a soap factory, the couple’s 16-year-old son, Raza, is a good student who appears to be ready to enter the field. However, Raza repeatedly fails an important national test due to bizarre bouts of anxiety, and is forced to wait to re-take the test as his friends continue on in school. At that time, Raza strikes up a friendship with an Afghani named Abdullah, who he meets by happenstance at a fish market. Abdullah mistakes Raza and his unique blend of ethnicities for an Afghani himself. Abdullah begins to talk with more and more fervor of going to a military training camp to prepare to fight Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union. Raza tells himself that he will help Abdullah get to a camp, and then leave him there. However, when Raza actually arrives at the camp, he is horrified to see that it is in a rugged, rural location that would be impossible to escape. As he becomes increasingly anxious, the leaders of the camp are suspicious of Raza’s affiliation with the American Harry Burton (the son of Jacob and Ilse), who had visited Raza’s family. As Raza is returned home from the camp, Sajjad attempts to find him by searching constantly at the fish market. However, a man there is also suspicious of Sajjad’s connections to the American, and shoots and kills Sajjad shortly before Raza returns home.

The fourth and final section of the book takes place in New York City, immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The elderly Hiroko lives in the city with Ilse, and is frequently visited by Kim, Harry’s daughter. Harry and Raza have become coworkers as military contractors, and are in Afghanistan conducting military operations. Raza is also attempting to reunite with Abdullah, hoping to reconcile with him, so many years after their bizarre separation at the camp. Raza discovers that Abdullah is working as a taxi driver in New York City, and arranges for Hiroko to smuggle Abdullah over the Canadian border, so that Abdullah may then return to his family in Afghanistan. At that time, Harry is shot and killed by Afghan forces while playing a cricket game, and Raza must flee Afghanistan, as Harry’s other colleagues are deeply suspicious of Raza. In NYC, Kim insists that she, and not Hiroko, be the one who takes Abdullah over the border. Raza pays for a harrowing multi-leg journey from Afghanistan to Montreal, where he meets Abdullah at a restaurant as he is dropped off by Kim. However, Kim suddenly feels deeply suspicious of Abdullah’s Islamic faith, and calls the police on him. However, when the police enter the restaurant, they mistakenly arrest Raza, and not Abdullah. When Kim returns to Hiroko’s apartment in New York City, Hiroko is deeply angry with her for having her son arrested simply out of misguided race profiling.

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