The trauma of war is typically gauged by loss of lives and property, not broken hearts, but the microcosm is often as powerful an indicator of loss as the macrocosm—or so Shamsie seems to say in her latest novel, a shimmering, quick-witted lament and love story. Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, is a place under constant siege: ethnic, factional, sectarian and simply random acts of violence are the order of the day. This violence—and the lingering legacy of the civil war of 1971—is the backdrop for the story of Raheen and Karim, a girl and boy raised together in the 1970s and '80s, whose lives are shattered when a family secret is revealed. The two friends and their families are members of the city's wealthy elite, personified in its shallowness by family members like Raheen's supercilious Aunt Runty and in guilty social conscience by Karim himself. This is a complex novel, deftly executed and rich in emotional coloratura and wordplay (the title is inspired by Karim's burgeoning obsession with mapmaking, and spelled with a "k" after the city's name). Shamsie pays homage to Calvino with a pastiche of Invisible Cities written by Raheen at her upstate New York college. But Shamsie's novel deals more with ghosts than cities: ghosts of relationships, ghosts of childhood, ghosts of love. A ghost is said to haunt a tree where Raheen's father—once engaged to Karim's mother—carved their initials long ago. Two ghosts representing Karim and Raheen walk an invisible city in Raheen's Calvino tribute. As someone said to Raheen: "There's a ghost of a dream you don't even try to shake free of because you're too in love with the way she haunts you." In similar fashion, Raheen remains in love with Karachi, family and friends, even as one by one their facades crumble. (Aug.)
Forecast:Shamsie's cerebral, playful style sets her apart from most of her fellow subcontinental writers. Something of a cross between Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie, she deserves a larger readership in the U.S.
Release date: 08/01/2003