This week I completed the delightful Kamila Shamsie book. It is a saga that connects an Indian Muslim, a Japanese Nagasaki survivor, a British-German woman and their children through a set of circumstances spanning from 1947 to the post-9/11 Afghanistan. It deals with the choices people make and those that they are not allowed to make. For instance Sajjad, the central character of the book, can never think of living in any place other than Delhi (which is how he thinks of Lutyen’s or the new part of the city) or Dilli (the old city where he lives), even as many around him opt for the newly created Pakistan. But this choice is snatched from him by circumstances and he ends up living his life out in Karachi. Hiroko, who survives the Nagasaki bomb could have continued to live in Japan, but chooses to move away to Delhi because of a tenuous link with that city through her German love, who loses in the blast. How these two meet, marry and their life in Karachi in the more peaceful years of the 60s and 70s make up the story. Their son with the unlikely name of Raza Konrad Ashraf, flirts with the Afghan war against the Russians and chooses to not join in. But years later through his friendship with Willie the son of the Burtons, the patrons in a way of both Sajjad and Hiroko, he chooses to get involved in post-9/11 American war in that country. A choice that has a disastrous ending.
Shamsie weaves a complex, plausible tale with finely etched characters. She explores the compassion that individuals can have for each other, with little heed for nation, color or creed while entire populations can support unspeakable acts en mass. Her descriptions of the Delhi of 1947 was close to the Delhi I remember of my childhood. Hiroko “had no interest in belonging to anything as contradictorily insubstantial as a nation” and never, considers her nationality except as a stamp on a passport. It is a long tale and I often tend to get lost in the these prolonged epics. But, here the characters are few and the pace of the story does not lag. And the first, more interesting half would not have been relevant without the more contorted, second half! All in all a good read.
I also started to read Anita Desai’s “Journey to Ithaca’. My response to initial 100 pages is that it is disappointing. But this maybe because of the high expectations.