Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

A God in Every Stone is an ambitious novel that carries the reader through major events of the last century - from the First World War to the developing independence movement in India. It is all tidily brought together through the viewpoints of three main characters.

Vivian Spencer is a budding archaeologist who has joined the dig run by family friend Tahsin Bey, a Turk with Armenian sympathies. The Kaiser’s sabre rattling seems far away in Labraunda as the two make new discoveries including a growing fondness for each other. When war in Europe is declared, Vivian is whisked back home to wait it out.

Working in a war hospital threatens to destroy Vivian's sanity, and she begs to go to Peshawar in the north of India as it was then, to another dig much talked about by Bey. She meets our second narrator on a train.

Pashtun soldier Qayyum Gul has returned from Ypres after losing an eye and is disillusioned with the Empire he bravely fought for. It is his younger brother, Najeeb, who discovers a kindred spirit in Vivian, and the two take on the role of teacher and pupil, much to the dismay of Najeeb’s family. More than a decade later, as stirrings of unrest take hold of the region, the three characters meet again when a clash of cultures comes to a head.

The three narrators have very different points of view but each gathers the reader’s sympathies. Shamsie creates plenty of drama round them, in settings richly brought to life, keeping you glued to the page. On top of that she gives you a wonderful understanding of the period, a time of social change and a crumbling empire. This is seasoned by the archaeological references which remind you that every event is a mere dot in the vastness of history.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A God in Every Stone

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