ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now a new novel that takes us back about a century to what is now Pakistan. It's written by Kamila Shamsie who was born in Pakistan and now lives in London. She's been called one of the best young novelists in Britain by Granta Magazine. And our reviewer Alan Cheuse says, that praise is merited. Here's his take on Shamsie's sixth novel, "A God In Every Stone."
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: In the summer of 1914 Vivian Spencer, a young, enlightened British woman, is participating in an archaeological dig in Turkey in the company of an old family friend - a local man named Tahsin Bey. Bey is searching for an artifact from the earliest days of the Persian Empire - a silver circlet that once belonged to an early Persian king which Alexander the Great himself supposedly carried to India. As the war overtakes such civilized practices as archaeology, Vivian returns to England. But the quest for that silver circlet stays in her mind. When we meet her next she's traveling to the Peshawar Valley as an independent woman hoping to begin a dig of her own. On the train she encounters Qayyum Gul, a young Muslim man from Peshawar - a soldier of the English crown whose lost an eye in combat in the battle of Ypres and finds himself suddenly shifting his loyalties from the West to the East. Vivian next meets Qayyum's brother, Najeeb, who becomes an archaeologist and directs a small museum in Peshawar. What he, Najeeb, most loves in Peshawar, we hear, is the proximity of the past. All around the broken bowl of the Peshawar Valley his glance knows how to burn away time. As does this novelist. In 1930s Peshawar tension between the occupying English and the militant Indians - Hindu and Muslim alike - grows more and more menacing, testing all sorts of loyalties and friendships. From the far distant past of the Persian Empire to the 1930s massacre in Peshawar we can see the outline of that fabled circlet rise to the surface in a bond between times and people's that history will put to the test. Shamsie's memorable rendering of this story brings to mind E. M. Forster's famous dictum about linking history, people and places - only connect, only connect. In this way, Najeeb looks at the circlet and sees a greeting across centuries. Why not read this beautifully composed and often wonderfully moving novel in the same way?
SIEGEL: The novel is "A God In Every Stone" by Kamila Shamsie. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.