Thursday, June 25, 2009

Burnt Shadows


by Kamila Shamsie / A Picador Paperback Original

Photo-illustration by Marc Yankus

Beginning on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, and ending in a prison cell in the US in 2002, as a man is waiting to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of love and betrayal.

Hiroko Tanaka is twenty-one and in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. As she steps onto her veranda, wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, her world is suddenly and irrevocably altered. In the numbing aftermath of the atomic bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, two years later, Hiroko travels to Delhi. It is there that her life will become intertwined with that of Konrad's half sister, Elizabeth, her husband, James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu.

With the partition of India, and the creation of Pakistan, Hiroko will find herself displaced once again, in a world where old wars are replaced by new conflicts. But the shadows of history--personal and political--are cast over the interrelated worlds of the Burtons, the Ashrafs, and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York and, in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound these families together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.


The title Burnt Shadows refers to the crane shaped patterns from the protagonist's kimono that was burnt onto her back when she was exposed to the atomic blast while in Nagasaki waiting for her German officer lover. Whew. It represented a constant reminder of the world she lost and marked her as an outsider trying to find happiness but is swept up in historical events. Instead of trying to illustrate the epic scope of the story, I wanted to focus on that. But it could easily turn out looking grotesque. I needed to find a more painterly and beautiful approach to creating the image.
Marc Yankus is always dropping by my office to show me his beautiful photographs. They're more like paintings. Really stunning. I'm always looking for a project that we could work on together and this seemed perfect.


Marc had his close friend Minnie pose for him. Focusing on the back of the woman, she couldn't appear too provocative but had to appear as if she was baring her soul and her shame. A moment of intimate trust. Of the contact sheet, this shot of Minnie looked particularly vulnerable. We then looked for crane references. Most of the stock art and Dover books sources were too stiff and graphic. I wanted something more painterly and soft. I thought that kimonos would be a good bet. But oddly enough, we had a difficult time finding kimonos with the right crane patterns. We looked all over NYC. We checked kimono stores, the famous Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya, a private dealer of Japanese rare prints, the New York Public Library Picture Collection but none were right. It seemed easier to recreate it ourselves. So I hired my go to image maker Philip Pascuzzo to create a flying crane and ocean waves in the style of Japanese woodblock prints. Marc then took Phil's drawings and arranged them into his composition. The wooden bracket from a piece of Marc's furniture was added to the back cover to suggest the India portion of the story.
I kept the type solution quiet.
The gradient sky was inspired by the Japanese screen painter Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Illustrations by Philip Earl Pascuzzo:






An interview with author Kamila Shamsie:


Kamila Shamsie on using Google Maps to help with research for novel writing

Burnt Shadows Reading Group Guide

4 comments:

James Perales said...

Beautiful....I love the graphics overlayed on the photo. Is this printed on some silky finished material?...Seems to me like that would be perfect.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

Nice, clean and pure. love the way it wraps and breaks the design up with different style photo and color.

craftivore said...

Gorgeous layes, ethereal.

virginia said...

beautiful covers, and thoughtful reviews...i know what i'll be reading next.

this is a kimono site i bookmarked some time ago, and i see it's been redesigned:

http://www.yamatoku.jp/classic/

16 july (1945), is the anniversary of the trinity site test. here is a photo of white sands, NM, with links in the comments:

http://colorinformal.blogspot.com/2009/07/one-of-my-favorite-photos-taken-july.html