Raheen and Karim are children of destiny, their fate cast in the past relationships of their parents. According to family mythology, the parents swapped fiancées, a quirky event that their children view as an interesting but minor footnote. Raheen and Karim are unaware of the more serious implications of the swap, an event tied to the civil unrest in the 1970’s that shakes the foundations of even the secure upper class citizens of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. Due to escalating chaos in Karachi, Karim’s parents move to London in the 1980's and later divorce, an event that shocks all their relatives and stuns their best friends.
Family secrets lie buried until the now-grown Karim and Raheen are thrust into confusion in their own relationship. Their easy connections have disappeared, and neither can unravel the emotional knots created during the years they were separated. Raheen holds desperately to her childhood memories, the closeness she enjoyed with her best friend and “blood brother”, Karim. She yearns for the simplicity of the days spent absorbed in each other’s company. But Karim has evolved into a principled man whose world is defined in black and white, tortured by his inner conflicts.
Karim knows the family secret, and this causes him to judge Raheen, unaware that she has no knowledge of the event that occurred before they were born. In the bright idealism of youth, his judgment comes easily, although it is flawed by his ignorance of a generation whose time has passed. Until Karim and Raheen change their perspective and their adversarial means of communication, they cannot understand the complications of love, friendship and polarizing politics. Unflinching, they must face their parent’s truth and with the same kind of courage as the older generation.
Shamsie’s unique slice-of-life tale, set against a background of recurring civil war, beautifully illustrates the unbreakable bonds of love and friendship that are made more durable by forgiveness. Karim and Raheen’s love is as tangled as the love of their parents. But their ties are generational; when they embrace the complicated emotional decisions faced by their parents, the couple has an opportunity to overcome their inability to connect.
In an engaging style that evokes the warmth and acceptance of family, the author ties the difficulties of politics with the everyday lives of the citizens of Karachi. Eventually, even affluence is insufficient to protect them from the random violence of war. In the end, personal possessions cannot isolate these families from reality or tragedy.
This is indeed a love story, not just between a boy and a girl but between generations, where compassion defines the quality of family relationships. The extraordinary friendship of the parents, even with its inherent problems, teaches their children about the fragility of the human heart, the catharsis of forgiveness and the flexibility of hope.