I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I know very little about the First World War, aside from a half-term at primary school looking at possible old bomb sites on a local field. I definitely knew nothing about the British Indian Army, or the affect the war had on the British colonies that still existed in the early 1900s. So when I picked up A God In Every Stone, I didn’t know what to expect – set around 1914, following the journey of an enthusiastic archaeologist battling male society, and a young Indian man returned home war-wounded, I naively thought this tale might be one of mysterious encounter and forbidden love. I was very wrong indeed. Kamila Shamsie, Granta Best of Young British Novelist 2013, spins intricate webs that intrigue, move, and draw you in deeper, until you’re left not entirely sure where you are.
Vivian Rose Spencer – Viv – is a young woman desperate to uncover the history cemented in the stones of Peshawar. Struggling to make her way as a female archaeologist; she strives to prove herself to her parents, her mentor Tahsin Bey, and society. Caught at the start of the war she balances her passion with her duty, and finds herself torn between the war-wounded men and the cry of falling statues. The trauma of the military hospitals leads her to abandon England in the hope of encountering once again her Turkish teacher and friend, a lone woman heading into tumultuous India. Little does she know what a misspent word might mean for the fate of Tahsin Bey, and what their dreamed future might really become.
Qayyum Gul is proud to be a part of the British Indian Army, and to fight at Ypres is a high honour. But his career is short-lived, and he eventually returns to his family with a glass eye and a chest full of remorse. Slowly, he becomes overtaken by the view of Civil Disobedience, desperate to teach his younger brother Najeeb that the English are not his friends. Meanwhile, Najeeb finds himself immersed in Greek words, tales of brave adventures, and the depths of the ground below his feet – under the kind eye of Viv, he grows both in intelligence and curiosity, mapping out a path towards museums and knowledge.
A God In Every Stone uncovers the remarkable story of Scylax, the warrior whose silver circlet becomes a source of conspiracy, greed, desire, and homage over centuries; culminating in a young boy discovering his passion for the long-lost in the dusty fields of ancient Caspatyrus, beneath the destructive nature of the war on society, community, and family. Kamila Shamsie entwines the empires of 485BC Persia, the Ottoman empire’s crumbling end, and colonial India, all amidst the turmoil of conflict. With incredible skill and attention to detail, this book is important to history lovers, those with religious curiosity, and anyone who maintains a romantic notion of the age of discovery. Do not hold it lightly, but dig deep into its recesses and reveal its myths for yourself.
Thank you Bloomsbury books and GoodReads for this review copy.