Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
Kamila Shamsie has been in the press a lot recently due to scooping the Women’s Prize for Fiction award with her newest book, Home Fire, but for this Friday Reads I wanted to turn to one of her earlier novels. Published in 2014, A God In Every Stone chronicles the seemingly disparate lives of a young Englishwoman, Vivian Spencer, and Qayyum Gul, a Lance Corporal from Peshawar who lost an eye fighting for the British in World War One. Spanning from Turkey, war-torn London, and Peshawar across centuries, the worlds of Vivian and Qayyum collide in such beautifully tragic ways. Just like in Home Fire, Shamsie is able to evoke a strong sense of empathy for her characters that leaves a lasting impression long after the final pages.
Vivian Spencer is an archeological enthusiast. Spending some time in Turkey before the war with a family friend – and potential love interest despite the age gap – researching the whereabouts of an ancient artefact that once belonged to renowned Greek explorer, Scylax, she is rushed back to London after the outbreak of the First World War. Volunteering for a while as a VAD, she is given the opportunity to travel to Peshawar in order to continue the hunt for this ancient circlet. This brings her into contact with Qayyum Gul’s younger brother, Najeeb, who acts as her tour guide in exchange for some tutoring. On the same train as Vivian is Qayyum, returning from his recuperation in Brighton. What ensues is a battle for independence from an undivided India against the British Empire in the post-war years.
Shamsie artfully weaves so many strands of history, so many aspects that are normally brushed over (from a western perspective), yet never does her prose feel like a history lesson. Although I’m not usually one to read historical fiction, it’s startlingly clear that Shamsie has done her research. Basing some events in the novel on real-life occurrences, such as the massacre at Qissa Khawani Bazaar in 1930 to the Khudai Khidmatgar – a non-violent struggle against the British Empire by the Pashtuns of the North-West Frontier Province of British India, Shamsie illuminates what is often forgotten or rewritten in history by those in power.
Kamila Shamsie is a British Pakistani novelist. She has written numerous novels which have garnered numerous awards and praise. Publishing her first novel, In the City by the Sea, at the age of 25 she then went on to receive the Prime Minister’s Award for Literature in Pakistan for her debut. Her most recent award was the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year with Home Fire.