A God in Every Stone-Kamila Shamsie
An Englishwoman falls in love with a Turkish archaeologist but the onset of war/his disappearance interrupts their relationship. When she follows his quest to find an artefact to Peshawar, she learns about connections that govern the world.
This is a book lush in imagery-evoking every sense. Scents are tied strongly to images and history and carry the reader through streets in a visceral way. There are two threads of this novel, both set in two time periods. There is the story of the English archaeologist, Vivian Spencer, who is seeking Scylax’s silver amulet and she does so as a young woman in thrall of a family friend and again later in Peshwar as a seasoned teacher. Then there is the story of Qayyum, a veteran who lost his eye (and idealism) fighting with British forces at Ypres and later, his brother becomes tutored by Spencer in Peshwar. There is a serious tension inherent in the collision of these worlds-the overreaction of the British to any uprisings but their indifference to the Paktuns is examined in a merciless light. Spencer is operating as a single person and so she manages to bridge the divide in the case of one family which highlights the underlying foundation of this novel-that love is the most important tie that bonds us.
I think what I enjoyed most though was the realistic representation of the archaeology which in turn made me believe strongly in the broader historical events. The search for the artefact is not the stuff of treasure hunting or Indiana Jones. It is not even half as important as the people doing the searching and so its value does not trump that of the people. There is definitely action but it is the more realistic action that governs life within wars rather than ancient curses/mythologies/etc. And so Shamsie has crafted instead, a novel about connections in unlikely places and the power of interrelation against a backdrop of the intriguing but not sensensalized aspects of archaeology. Amazingly rare.
Shamsie’s attention to complexity of events and the subtlety of life in the early periods (such as the intersection of suffragism and everyday feminism of breaking into men’s fields or Spencer’s uneasy relationship with the progressiveness of her choices and the conservatism of her interactions abroad) as well as the imagery she employs really is what makes this novel shine.