A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
22nd Apr 2014
The city of Peshawar and its rich history is at the centre of Kamila Shamsie’s latest novel, A God in Every Stone.
The novel begins in 515 BC, with an introduction to Scylax of Caria, a Greek historian who played a role in the rebellion against the Persian Emperor Darius.
The tale moves on to 1914 where we find 22-year-old Vivian Rose Spencer on a dig in Labraunda with her father’s friend Tahsin Bey.
Her admiration for the sites of the Ottoman Empire is clear as is her enthusiasm to become more knowledgeable about her surroundings.
Vivian’s father, a man without sons, raised his daughter so that she would have the manners expected of a woman, but the intellect expected of a man.
As a relationship builds between Vivian and Tahsin Bey, World War I breaks out and Vivian is forced to travel home to her parents. In their last few moments, Tahsin Bey reveals something to Vivian that will later have an immense effect on both their lives.As a relationship builds between Vivian and Tahsin Bey, World War I breaks out and Vivian is forced to travel home to her parents. In their last few moments, Tahsin Bey reveals something to Vivian that will later have an immense effect on both their lives.
As battle commences in France, Vivian becomes a VAD nurse and receives a rare letter from Tahsin Bey. The letter holds a cryptic message about the whereabouts of a silver circlet which once belonged to Scylax. Broken down by her responsibilities as a VAD nurse, Vivian’s mother organises a trip to Peshawar for Vivian so that she can continue her archaeological studies in order to find the circlet.
Her journey crosses paths with injured soldier Quayyum Gul who has been sent home after serving with the 40th Pathan regiment as a servant of the British Empire. Through Quayyum, Shamsie offers an insight into the Indian freedom movement and the work of independence activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
Vivian also comes across Quayyum’s younger brother Najeeb. At first it is Najeeb who offers to show Vivian around Peshawar before she takes on the role of teacher and reveals to Najeeb the history of his people. With every lesson, Najeeb becomes more enthused about his studies and becomes as dedicated as Vivian in her search for the silver circlet.
The story jumps ahead at the end to the Peshawar massacre of 1930 as the characters become embroiled in the chaotic, bloody and violent scenes. Shamsie covers the massacre by providing several different of points of view, utilising all her characters to the very end of her tale. The turmoil finally ceases when the fighting comes to an end, when there are no more questions to be asked and all there is left to do is honour the fallen with a surge of red rose petals.
The delicate narrative makes this tale feel less like a history lesson with its dates, figures and names of many notable people, places and events, as Shamsie carefully weaves the history into her characters’ lives.
Despite its epic scope, the novel never veers too far away from the main characters and their relationships, creating an intimate and enjoyable read.