Bloomsbury £14.99

Burnt Shadows, By Kamila Shamsie

All modern life is here, in this decade-spanning and continent-bestriding post-9/11 novel

Novelists continue to try trapping the vastness of our post-9/11 world inside a hardback cover – the fictional equivalent of stuffing a duvet into a handbag. The sheer scale of the task has then persuaded most of them to paint 9/11 in miniature instead. Don DeLillo, master of the vast canvas, chucked out his big brushes and picked up a small tin of watercolours to create Falling Man. The language of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a short, restrained dramatic monologue in which a Pakistani man speaks politely to an American in a café, is so deliberately formal it's positively Austen-esque. Jonathan Safran Foer's attempt in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is largely tied to the travails of an eccentric little boy called Oskar. Ian McEwan limited the events of Saturday to a single day. Each of these novelists went Lilliputian and, to be fair, each succeeds. But Kamila Shamsie has thrown caution wildly to the wind. Burnt Shadows is a giant of novel, striding purposefully across Japan, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and America. The characters are countless, the language myriad, the timeframe huge. So has Shamsie managed to release the post-9/11 novel from its self-imposed small canvas?

Burnt Shadows opens as an unnamed man stands naked, waiting to be given the orange jumpsuit that will mark him as an inmate at Guantanamo. Immediately we soar back to Japan, August 1945, and the Nagasaki bomb. Hiroko Tanaka survives the attack, but with radiation sickness and the silhouette of three birds seared on her back. Her German fiancé, Konrad Weiss, is evaporated. To prove that Shamsie can handle the delicate detail as well as the broad sweep, there's a beautifully realised scene in which Hiroko finds a rock marked with what she believes is Konrad's shadow. Rolling the stone to the International Cemetery, she lies down on his shadow, "her mouth pressed against the darkness of his chest", before she buries the rock in a grave.

Hiroko travels to India to find Konrad's half-sister, Elizabeth, and her English husband, James Burton. While staying with them, she falls in love with their Muslim employee, Sajjad Ashraf. Following partition, Sajjad and Hiroko are forced to settle in Pakistan, where they raise their son, Raza, to expect a university education. But, as in any decent novel, beware of expectations. Raza's life becomes entangled with that of Elizabeth and James Burton's son, Harry. At this point the novel takes on the urgency of a political thriller. Ruthless CIA operatives and religious fundamentalists drive the novel to its conclusion.

The grasp of language, the subtlety of expression and the sheer mastery of international politics are all impressive. And so, too, are the details: family loyalties, national allegiances, betrayals, the sometimes misguided desire we have to protect our children from the truth. Burnt Shadows has just been included on the Orange Prize longlist. I expect it to appear on the shortlist. In fact, in my view, it should win the prize. To the question of whether big brushes have worked for Kamila Shamsie, the answer is a resounding, thumping, capitalised YES.

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
exhibition Gillian Orr traces the movement from Bram Stoker to Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone