Title: HOME FIRE
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie’s book is a tale of two families’ lives in this retelling of the tragedy Antigone by Sophocles (which I had to educate myself about when I started reading this book). From the very beginning of the book, you get the sense of foreboding as the plot unfolds. She weaves the suspense very delicately into a story that is about love, loyalty, identity, and politics. It is a Greek tragedy with a very modern take as she writes honestly about the insidious nature of radicalization.
Shamsie dedicates a chapter to each main character. There is Isma – the mother-figure and elder sister who has moved to the US to study after raising her younger twin siblings. She falls for Eamonn, the son of a British politician and Home Secretary Karamat, who is viewed with much suspicion by his Muslim constituency for his strong anti-terrorist and hardline views on the integration of Pakistani immigrants.
Aneeka, Isma’s younger sister and twin to Parvaiz, is the main character around whom the story centres. Shamsie lets the story unfold slowly as we learned that Parvaiz has fled London to join Isis after learning that their father was killed whilst being transported to Guantanamo, post-9-11. She intertwines themes of the marginalization of immigrant youth; of expectations of their integration in Western society; and the impact that 9-11 had on an already disillusioned generation – all themes that Europe is currently grappling with. Kamla spends her time detailing the grooming of Parvaiz by an elder Isis recruiter – exposing the ease with which marginalization can unfold into radicalization.
The suspense builds from when it becomes clear that Parvaiz now wants to return home, but cannot be assured immunity from prosecution by the British government. Shamsie’s writing is unhurried, with the different points of views of her characters given sufficient chapters to develop, yet the story moves along at a fairly fast pace.
The plot takes on a tragic turn when Aneeka, in her quest to get her brother home, uses her relationship with Eamonn to try and persuade Karamat into some leniency for Parvaiz. She leaves the country in an attempt to bring Parvaiz home, forcing Karamat’s hand and involving Eammon, who is unwittingly the pawn in her plan. It is here that Kamla deftly reworks Antigone, retelling the tragedy, but with a very modern and politically relevant twist.
Towards the end of the book, I was flicking through the pages as quickly as I could as the suspense built up. The author cleverly intertwines the characters, the points of views and the themes to the final scene that culminates in the tragic ending of a story that is about love and loyalty forged by political sentiment.
I thoroughly enjoyed Kamsie’s book and would highly recommend it.