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Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Kartography (2002)

by Kamila Shamsie

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Hmmm. A good read, a provocative premise, and an interesting story. It was poetic at many points. But somehow there was an emotional flatness. Something was not there. The backdrop of one story thread, Pakistan in the early 70's, was compelling and educational. ( )
  ming.l | Mar 31, 2013 |
Sublime writing transformed what could have been a love and war formula piece into something more intellectually and emotionally filling. ( )
  beckydj | Mar 31, 2013 |
Kartography is set in Karachi, Pakistan during a period of political unrest, ethnic tensions and escalating violence. We are introduced to Karim and Raheen in 1970, when they are 13 years old. They are children of affluent families and have had the freedom to enjoy their childhood, but the unsettled politics in Karachi are bringing matters to a head.

We follow the lives of Karim and Raheen up until their 20’s, and through them we are given glimpses of life in Karachi; the sheltered and social lives of the rich and the dangers of the wrong side of the tracks, and the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. But Shamsie also includes aspects of recent Pakistani history, especially the conflict which led to the formation of Bangladesh. While we only get the bare bones of this conflict, it is interesting and adds depth to Shamsie’s story.

But Kartography is primarily a family drama. The secrets of the parents come back to haunt the children - changing not only Karim and Raheen’s lives forever, but also their ideas of who the people they love really are. Family ties become strained and break before eventually being reformed as something other, while friendships are repeatedly tested through the years.

On occasion during the first part of the book, it was difficult to remember that Raheen and Karim were only just into their teenaged years. Their curiosity and keen observations lead to insights that seem to be too mature for people their age, but are profound and poignant nonetheless.

It is easy to become invested in the characters of Raheen and Karim, and in their relationship, and I spent most of last 100 pages on the verge of shedding a tear, hoping that miscommunications and wrong assumptions could be explained and that the issues that had created a wedge in such a special relationship could be worked out.

Kartography is beautifully written and crafted, it is often lyrical while the evocative images Shamsie employs give a real sense of the Karachi she obviously knows and loves.

This is a powerful story of friendship and growing up, love and learning to accept the weaknesses and mistakes of the people closest to us. ( )
  SouthernKiwi | Jan 16, 2011 |
Kartography is, without a doubt, my favorite contemporary book. The author, Kamila Shamsie, grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, in the 1970s and 1980s, and this is where and when her story is set. The first time I read the book I was so blown away by the beautiful language and compelling story that it barely registered when I came upon reference to Pakistani history that I didn’t understand. All I wanted to do was devour the story in the book, and Ms. Shamsie gave me all the information I needed to fall in love with Kartography without knowing the history of Pakistan.

The second time I read the book, I couldn’t let myself off so easily. I was curious about the war the characters kept referring to, and why there was tension between the Punjabi and Bengali characters. I picked up on some new subtleties, and was not so quick to skim over the unfamiliar references. I looked up the words I didn’t know, such as muhajir (immigrant) and Ami (Mother). But still I must admit that I didn’t probe too deeply into the history of the story or the region.

This time, however, in my third reading of this excellent novel, I can’t seem to get enough of the history of these characters that I have come to know as well as I know my own children. My atlas is permanently open on my living room floor as I look up cities and roads that figure in the story. I have Wikipedia’s explanation of the Bangladesh Liberation War bookmarked in my internet browser, as well as the history of the British colonization of India. And I must admit, I now appreciate the book on a whole new level. My understanding of the main characters has much more depth, and even peripheral characters have taken on an importance I would never have seen in my first or second readings. My historical research increases not only my appreciation of the book itself, but also my appreciation of the author’s storytelling abilities. As much as I loved the book before, I understood only a fraction of the thought and subtlety that must have gone into the creation of Kartography.

This book is a must-read, and a must-have in your library. ( )
1 vote bkwurm | Jan 9, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156029731, Paperback)

Kartography is Kamila Shamsie's impressive third novel. At its heart is a traditional love story-cum-family saga. Karim and Raheen are anagram-swapping "fated friends." Until the age of 13, when Karim moved to London, they were virtually raised as brother and sister. Their parents had once been engaged to each other. The unravelling of quite why this matrimonial square dance occurred is juxtaposed with Karim and Raheen's own, and decidedly more protracted, romance.

As the title suggests, mapping--geographical, political and emotional--is central to the book. The "comic" spelling is a wry allusion to its setting: the troubled Pakistani city of Karachi, a place that, as Karim observes, worships "at the altar of K." Karim, Raheen and their friends Sonia and Zia all belong to the privileged Karachi elite. Born on the right "side of the Clifton Bridge" they seem immune from Karachi's endemic corruption, violence, and religious and ethnic intolerance but they and their families, like the rest of the city's inhabitants, have all been horrifically scarred by events of the 1971 civil war.

Like Austen, or perhaps more accurately Forster, Shamsie is wonderfully adept at capturing the petty rivalries and social games of Pakistan's highly stratified bourgeoisie society--Zia's house is sagely described as "always full of people worth cultivating, rather than people worth having in your home." There are a few (well-acknowledged) nods to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and even Homer's Odyssey gets a look in but Shamsie wears her learning lightly. She manages to make Karim and Raheen's journey to toward engagement, both with the realities of Karachi and with each other, into a profound meditation on the nature of love, storytelling and politics. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:28 -0400)

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"Now Kate must come to terms with disturbing doubts about close family members while coping with her troubled young daughter. Luckily for Kate, guardian angel Augusta Goodnight has dropped by to help, this time with a bumbling young apprentice in tow. With fresh-baked goods and sound, heavenly advice, Augusta helps Kate investigate Ella's untimely demise - and a few other unsolved mysteries along the way."--BOOK JACKET. "When Kate McBride returns to her hometown of Bishop's Bridge, North Carolina, for a family reunion, she expects questions about her husband's conspicuous absence. What she doesn't expect is murder." "Soon after arriving, Kate finds her great-uncle's housekeeper, Ella Stegall, badly injured and incoherent, at the bottom of a wooded ravine after an apparent fall from a ledge. Moments before losing consciousness, Ella whispers she was pushed - not surprising, considering that Bramblewood. Uncle Ernest's woodsy estate, is no stranger to murder and intrigue." "Could Ella's accident be connected to Bramblewood's mysterious past, or was her claim just the ramblings of a delirious old woman? Poor Ella slips away before leaving more clues to her death.".… (more)

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