As we walk from the Soho offices of her publisher to an eccentric French patisserie, I do the English thing, offering a few bits of patter about the unpredictable March weather. She humours me. Shamsie is about my own age, and yet I feel like a girlish ditz beside the mature, cosmopolitan woman in the tan suede jacket. A woman who is clearly hoping I have more to discuss with her than the possibility of rain. Shamsie was born in in Pakistan.
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As a female born in Pakistan in the early s, in a culture in which girls were expected to become only wives and mothers, Shamsie was fortunate in her family background and the support she received: her affluent and literary family already included several female writers, including her mother, Muneeza Shamsie, and her great-aunt, Attia Hosain.
Consequently, her literary aspirations were positively encouraged. After her Pakistani childhood, Shamsie attended university in the US.
Though she is now based mainly in the UK, she has homes in all three continents. Her first four novels are set in her home city, Karachi, Pakistan, while Burnt Shadows spans several continents but is partly based in Karachi.
Her international experiences have given her a different perspective on her home environment, and this underpins her fiction - she often explores cross-cultural relationships and cultural identity, particularly the burden of cultural history and family expectations.
Like most of her novels, it is set in Karachi and features the upper-middle class elite and their experiences in a politically turbulent homeland. In the City by the Sea is political in a quiet and subtle way. Its focus is year Hasan, who leads a charmed life in a secure, loving and affluent family, until his world is turned upside down when he sees a young boy, much like himself, fall to his death while flying a kite.
This incident is followed by the arrest of his beloved uncle, Salman Mamoo, who is subsequently imprisoned for treason. The young boy responds by making use of his imagination and creativity - his make-believe friends include characters from Shakespeare and from Arthurian legends.
In Salt and Saffron , the protagonist Aliya, like Shamsie herself, is returning to her affluent family in Karachi after studying in the US, an experience that has enabled her to step back psychologically and view her culture from a slightly different perspective. This is a culture in which the social hierarchy is rigid, and Aliya begins to feel the burden of the family heritage she is carrying. Salt and Saffron is thus a poignant exploration of the search for a balance between individual identity and ancestral and cultural heritage.
Kartography begins when the protagonists Karim and Raheen are in their early 20s, but depicts their s childhood through a series of flashbacks which also tell the stories of each of their parents. The flashbacks particularly emphasise the civil war. Once again, Shamsie explores the experiences of the wealthy elite in an unstable nation which is constantly in danger of collapse.
To this day, the city of Karachi apparently has no printed map, and locals rely on their intuitive knowledge and personal experience. Raheen, on the other hand, cannot understand his need to do this. On the whole, however, her incorporation of personal stories with political and social background is poignant and sensitive, offering readers the much-neglected story of Pakistan within imaginative and lively fictional stories.
Broken Verses , again set in Karachi, explores idealist fundamentalism, and the conflict between personal life and political activity. Aasmani Inqalab is a young woman in her 30s who is struggling with tragedy. Yet this perhaps represents a country that is still held back by idealistic visions of the past.
Throughout this, it moves from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan to the partition of British India, to the new Pakistan and later to Afghanistan and the US. All this is set around the stories of two families who incorporate individuals of various different nationalities and several cross-cultural relationships. The novel, which quickly moves back to , before returning to Guantanamo at the end, sets out to answer this question.
Thus, Sajjad loses his home city, Delhi, in the same way that Hiroko lost Nagasaki, and the novel explores the relationship between place and identity, as well as relationships between people from vastly different cultures. As the characters struggle to understand national identity, religion and politics, and the impact these issues have on their own lives, the novel attempts to answer its opening question. Inevitably, an ambitious and far-ranging work such as this raises questions more than answers, but Shamsie has been highly acclaimed for this epic novel and its attempt to bring together world events from Nagasaki to Guantanamo, while depicting the personal stories of two cross-cultural families whose pains and losses bring to life the real human suffering behind war and politics.
Shelves: around-the-world , location-pakistan , read , asia "Fourteen years ago, famous Pakistani activist Samina Akram disappeared. I had previously read Home Fires by the same author, which was largely set outside of Pakistan, and wanted to read something set in the country for my Around the World reading project. Most of this novel is set in Karachi but some characters also go to Islamabad. Ramzan we sometimes call it Ramadan is also observed during the novel, which is interesting when everyone "should" be observing it.
A writer's life: Kamila Shamsie
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