Star Wars Sale

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN!

Weekly drawing for $100 credit. Subscribe to for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

More at Powell's

From the Authors


Original Essays

Powell's Q&A

Tech Q&A

Kids' Q&A



Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


ToB: Burnt Shadows vs. That Old Cape Magic

Burnt ShadowsBurnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Reviewed by Tournament of Books
The Morning News

Powell's Books and The Morning News present the 2010 Tournament of Books

The annual NCAA-style battle between literary titans has begun! And, this year, Review-a-Day will feature a recap of the previous week's battles, judges' comments, and, of course, the winners of each match-up -- every Sunday through March.

With Friday upon us and an exhausting week of battles under our belts, we are now halfway through the opening round. It's been a lot of fun and we've got some exciting results to share! Before we get started, you might want to peek into the judges booth for some pre-game chatter.

This Week's Featured Battle

Battle Date: March 12, 2010


Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo


Judged by
Nic Brown

Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows is insanely ambitious. It starts with a love scene between a German man and a Japanese woman in Nagasaki on the day of the dropping of the atomic bomb, then somehow ends in Guantanamo Bay, but not until Shamsie first takes on the Partition between India and Pakistan, the end of British colonialism, American C.I.A. agents working in Afghanistan, several iterations of cross-cultural love, and some serious homoerotic tension between British lawyers and their Indian clerks. Much of it is too convenient and unbelievable to work, especially as the book progresses, and as for the end, I can't really say for certain if it's set in Guantanamo Bay or not, because I haven't finished it yet (I have a 17-month-old with a cold, a day job, and a new book to edit -- cut me some slack). But it doesn't really matter. By the end of the first chapter I knew it was going to win.

Let me explain. Shamsie's prose is often beautiful, and she's dealing with Big Ideas here. Of course, therein lie many of the problems in this novel, especially as the dialogue becomes increasing didactic ("Because of you, I understand for the first time how nations can applaud when their governments drop a second nuclear bomb," for example), but I admire what she's trying to accomplish. And I read this book second, so I knew as soon as I encountered her beautiful descriptions ("An old man walks past with skin so brittle Hiroko thinks of a paper lantern with the figure of a man drawn onto it") that it was my favorite.  (Read the entire ToB review)


Additional match-ups from this past week:

Coming up next week:

March 15, David Gutowski


Wolf Hall
An Epic Search For Truth

March 16, Molly Young


Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
The Anthologist

March 17, C. Max Magee


A Gate At the Stairs
The Book of Night Women

March 18, Kate Ortega


Big Machine
The Year of the Flood

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  2. The Anthologist
    Used Hardcover $5.50
  3. Burnt Shadows
    New Trade Paper $16.00
  4. Wolf Hall
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  5. That Old Cape Magic
    Used Hardcover $5.50
  6. Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth
    Used Trade Paper $12.00
  7. The Year of the Flood
    Used Hardcover $11.50
  8. Big Machine
    Used Hardcover $8.50
  9. The Book of Night Women
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  10. A Gate at the Stairs
    Used Hardcover $4.95

3 Responses to "ToB: Burnt Shadows vs. That Old Cape Magic"

    s h a r o n March 14th, 2010 at 6:25 am

    "I have a 17-month-old with a cold, a day job, and a new book to edit"

    My goodness, Nic. I'm not sure whether you should be proud, intimidated, or just plain scared of this child of yours!

    macque March 14th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    This is a nice compare and contrast exercise. If you want to generate even more
    interest how about doing the same with two poems. Not books of poetry, just two poems.
    It might be a US poet and a Russian poet, Keats v. contemporary, Oregonian v. New Yorker,

    Suchitra March 20th, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I read Burnt Shadows and by the start of the book I knew I would love it. I liked your review of the book. It was indeed very objective.

    I have recently started a book blog and I have also written my review of Burnt Shadows out there. Please do check it out and let me know what you think.


Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top
Follow us on...

Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at