Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: July 1914. Young Englishwoman Vivian Rose Spencer is running up a mountainside in an ancient land, surrounded by figs and cypresses. Soon she will discover the Temple of Zeus, the call of adventure, and the ecstasy of love. Thousands of miles away a twenty-year old Pathan, Qayyum Gul, is learning about brotherhood and loyalty in the British Indian army.
July, 1915. Qayyum Gul is returning home after losing an eye at Ypres, his allegiances in tatters. Viv is following the mysterious trail of her beloved. They meet on a train to Peshawar, unaware that a connection is about to be forged between their lives – one that will reveal itself fifteen years later, on the Street of Storytellers, when a brutal fight for freedom, an ancient artefact and a mysterious green-eyed woman will bring them together again. [Goodreads]
Review: Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi and achieved her BA in Creative Writing from Hamilton College and an MFA from from the University of Massachusetts. Shamsie is also no stranger to nominations for her work – A God In Every Stone was nominated for the Folio Prize in 2014. A God In Every Stone, however, is hard to review and on reflection, I cannot even be sure why I have given it five stars but it was mesmerising.
Shamsie transports readers from an archaeological site in Turkey and a blossoming romance, to England and a World War One nursing hospital, to Peshawar and the massacre of Qissa Khwani Bazaar (The Storytellers Market). Shamsie reminds us that“If a man is to die defending a field, let the field be his field, the land his land, the people his people.” A thought I find remarkable and honourable.
Some of the finer points that I would like to discuss, must be avoided as they are spoilers in the truest sense of the word. So many elements of this work need to be discovered organically by the reader and this blog is not about removing that excitement for a reader. A God In Every Stone has rekindled my desire to visit India, Pakistan and to return one day to Jordan and Egypt. Shamsie has also reminded me how much I love the oral traditions of cultures and how much history there is that some of us will never know, or know of in some vague, hand waving kind of way and how understanding history can enrich and inspire all of us. Shamsie also demonstrates the ways in which ignorance, misunderstanding, propaganda etc all contributes to the unchanged hatred of the unfamiliar. We are always scared of what we don’t know, regardless of what it is or who faces it. Shamsie also manages to interweave so many pieces of history into the text it is a heady mix without being difficult to follow.
Helen Dunmore, from the Guardian writes; “However, when it comes to character and event, it is often easier to see what Shamsie is aiming at than to feel the arrows of her intentions hitting their target. At times the novel makes gestures towards key moments of history rather than creating an imaginative embodiment of these events. The texture of VAD nurses’ lives during the first world war has been viscerally conveyed by writers such as Irene Rathbone and Vera Brittain. Shamsie presents Vivian as a VAD, but her hospital experiences are too stereotyped to be convincing. The arrival of the 40th Pathans in France and their experiences in the trenches also need more heft. This is not just a matter of detail, but of closeness to the fictional individual. Mulk Raj Anand’s Across the Black Waters, for example, immerses the reader in the jagged observations, bewilderment, questioning and excitement of Lalu and the other sepoys as their ship docks and they prepare to travel to the front. Through such precision, the particular truly acquires a universal reach.” And I have to agree with her points. However, this should not distract from a novel that is, overall, fantastic.
This novel resonated with me on so many levels. I highly recommend it.