Kamila Shamsie’s debut novel is now the same age as her first protagonist, 11-year-old Hasan, the only child of a lauded artist and a once powerful lawyer. The trio live surrounded by extended family and friends in ‘the city by the sea’ of Karachi, Pakistan. Up on his roof one afternoon, enjoying his favorite pomegranate, Hasan cheers with great excitement as the sea breezes catch the yellow kite of another young boy a few rooftops away. The delighted flyer watches his colorful dancing speck rather than his own footing, and plummets to his tragic death.
Hasan shrinks into silent denial … and tragedy begets more tragedy as his idyllic existence crumbles. His beloved uncle Salman, once a powerful political force, has endured house arrest surrounded by entertaining family members who indulge him his silly jokes and his love of pine cones. But suddenly, he is arrested and disappears. His reeling family has 40 days to figure out how they might save him. Hasan, imaginative and obsessed, is convinced that if he can only figure out what Salman’s spirit wants, he can win his precious uncle’s freedom.
Shamsie somehow manages to effortlessly mix Shakespeare, The Wizard of Oz, and Turkish prison poems into a whimsical prose that never fails to entertain, even in light of tragic death and unjust political persecution. Her characters both haunt and delight. Whether mourning or celebrating, Shamsie is just so surprisingly clever, you can’t put her good books down.
Tidbit: Don’t forget that Shamsie arrives at the Smithsonian THIS Saturday, November 7, for SALTAF 2009. You’re not going to miss this chance to meet her in livetime!
Published: 1998 (United Kingdom)