A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
New York. Atavist Books. 2014. 336 pages.
To put this book in any specific genre would be an injustice. A God in Every Stone is firstly a historical fiction, outlining lands long forgotten but legacies forever remembered. It gives the histories of Turkey and Pakistan but places them in the context of a World War I–stricken Europe. It is also a travel guide. It gives glimpses of Turkey, London, Pakistan, and all the lands in between, during and before the beginning of the twentieth century. Further, it is a romance novel, but not in the typical sense. Every phrase, line, and character carries with it a romantic ambience.
The story begins with young Englishwoman and archaeologist Vivian Rose Spencer. Through Vivian, we gain some sense of the romance present in ancient lands when great warriors gave glorious speeches and beautiful shrines were devoted to them. Vivian has gone on an archaeological dig in Turkey that changes her life. Forced to serve as a nurse for the army, Spencer quickly realizes her true calling is not in the hospital but in the dirt, digging for ancient artifacts that ring of stories from an ancient time. To pursue this dream, she goes on an adventure to find the ultimate dig site in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Vivian’s life in Pakistan quickly changes as she becomes a teacher and mentor to the young Najeeb Gul, brother of Lance Corporal Qayyum Gul, a wounded soldier whose bravery is revealed through his war narrative. Shamsie takes us through their separate lives and shows us how the beauty and cruelty of the world can exist side by side.
Shamsie combines the characters’ lives as the novel progresses in a way that leads to a heart-wrenching but never-clichéd climax. The theme of a loss of innocence is present in every character, but it is coupled with that of learning acceptance and humanity. Through her characters, Shamsie offers an inside look at cultural biases and uncontrollable tragedies but in the end reminds us to look deeper within the world, because no matter how hidden, there is a god in every stone.
University of Oklahoma