Monday, 23 August 2010

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie


DATE READ: August 2010

NOTES: Burnt Shadows is an ambitious book. The story moves from the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945 to India under colonial rule, to the birth of Pakistan and right up to the “war on terror” in the United States at the present time. The plotting is fairly complex – especially as it takes place over such a long time. However I thought it became a bit unwieldy and less credible towards the end……

Most of her characters are well rounded. Hiroko was a really interesting central character – a clever Japanese linguist who carries with her the emotional and physical scars of Nagasaki. She is perceptive and incisive in her judgements. Following the 9/11 attacks she reflects that the 3,000 Americans killed seemed to have so much more significance than other event.

Elizabeth Burton is a typical colonial wife but she gradually befriends Hiroko and eventually they become close. She is enigmatic and I feel Shamsie probably had ambivalent feelings about her.

A beautifully written moving book.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry


DATE READ: August 2010

NOTES: Paul Christopher is a somewhat disillusioned CIA operative who sets out without any official permission to find out who was actually behind the Kennedy assassination. His search takes him from Italy to Austria, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and North Africa. He has contacts in all these places and his ability to speak the local languages is very much a plus factor. It is a fast paced story – and Christopher is portrayed as a pretty heroic character (but he is not above getting others to do his dirty work).

Although first published in 1975 The Tears of Autumn remains fresh and relevant. An Italian colleague says: “You Americans kill whole countries and it doesn’t bother you…..but for America to be wounded – ah!”

The plotting was a bit overcomplicated and involved the Viet Cong, Viet Minh, the Mafia, horoscopes, dwarf Nazis, Cubans, African nationalists…… Even readers who were sympathetic to the view that Kennedy was killed as a result of an international conspiracy would have had their credibility stretched to breaking point!

However Charles McCarry’s writing style is excellent. “They ate a bad meal, cooked with contempt and served with scorn, in an expensive restaurant in Georgetown that was going out of fashion.”