Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is a modern re-telling of the Greek tragedy, Antigone, and set against the backdrop of Islamaphobia and terrorism in Britain and Pakistan. Shamsie’s novel has received numerous awards and nominations, including being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
This book really wowed me, which I wasn’t expecting. I went in knowing that it’s a re-telling of the Greek tragedy of Antigone, a story I’m super fond of, but which worked out as far as meeting the criteria of two of my Reading Challenge book lists. Other than knowing this, I didn’t know what else to expect. I had only recently read a bit of writing by Shamsie, a short story, so I was only slightly acquainted with her work.
But this book really appealed to me. I think Shamsie’s treatment of the Antigone story is deftly done. Moving it to modern times did not hinder it or take anything away from the overarching themes of the story, nor did it make the story seem cheap by comparison or come across as a knock-off. Rather, the story felt much closer to me, much more real, because it’s set in the times in which I live. I could understand the circumstance of these characters, even if they were experiencing situations I would never experience myself.
I liked how Shamsie arranged the narrative to progress through different character perspectives. We jump from one character to the next, getting another piece of the story, then another, and through this, the whole thing unfolds. I feel like this kept the story fresh, especially since it is a re-telling and those who are familiar with Antigone will know what to expect. It’s been a long time since I read the Theban play, so I was still gifted with a bit of a surprise, but I think, overall, even if you are familiar with the story, the way that Shamsie crafted it will keep you on your toes and engrossed.
I particularly found the discourse on Islamophobia to be fascinating and very heartbreaking. It was interesting to see things played out between a family who one-half is born from immigrants Muslims and the other is British and how that dynamic plays out on the political field. It becomes a curiosity to see how abandoning your roots is not so cut and dry a move. The book also shows how different experiencing being the “other” can be depending on the person. Each of the characters reacts to it in a different way, which I think mirrors real life perfectly.
This book handled so many tricky topics, particularly terrorism and racism. Shamsie had these topics handled by very human, very real characters, ones that can inspire empathy and compassion, and challenge the reader not to judge based on stereotypes. I really appreciated her renderings of these characters and it made the story that much stronger.
Literary Value: 4/5
I found the writing to be very appealing to me. Shamsie’s style is really approachable and easy, it made me want to keep turning the pages, to keep delving into the story. I love how real her characters seem, they really came alive on the page and I was really drawn to them. I sympathized with them and hoped for the best for them and was heartbroken when things didn’t go their way. Shamsie is really skilled at developing empathetic characters, making the reader care about what happens to them.
I also thought that the writing was very simple, not overly dramatic, like many literary novels tend to be. There was no purple prose and the realistic, the concrete was what ruled the day and to me that’s what really matters in a story. It drives the plot better and it lets the characters shine more and keeps things accessible for the reader. Overall, it was a really deftly written story.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
I felt connected to the story right away and I read this book in a few days, which is pretty good for me. I found the story to be really compelling and the characters to be really dynamic and interesting. I kept wanting to read more, and so I have to give it up to Shamsie for holding my interest and for keeping me engrossed in the story the whole way through. I definitely wasn’t expecting that from this book, perhaps because of the subject matter. Even though this story is heartbreaking, I didn’t once feel bogged down by it. My emotional connection with the characters felt real and solid and this kept me from wanting to step away from the story or put it down.
Cover Art: 3/5
I think the cover is okay. It’s really middle-road. It doesn’t have too much to do with the subject matter, but it is pleasing to look at. I chalk it up to a decision to make the book graphically interesting without really delving too deeply into revealing story or character. It’s bright, it pops, and if it were in a book display, my eye would certainly be caught by it. I really do think it’s pretty. I just am not wowed by it. And that’s okay. With this kind of book, I’m glad that it doesn’t have any character portrayal on the cover or some kind of “scene” from the book. Though it’s a bit boring, it’s still not the worst they could have done.
Overall Rating: 3.75/5 Cups of Tea
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s a little out of my usual interest as far as subject matter, but I went out on a limb for it since it fit with the Reading Challenge lists I’m participating in this year. This is one of the reasons why I love doing these challenges, because it forces me to read books that I might not otherwise pick up. And in this case, it really paid off for me because I really liked Shamsie’s book. I think the writing is excellent, simple and beautiful. The characters are so realistic and human and I really felt connected to them as I read the book. The plot was compelling and a real page-turner (which, for me, is great because it doesn’t happen often, especially not with literary novels!).
This book provides a searing look at Islamophobia and what it means to be a “citizen” of a country. Especially in this current climate, I think this book is really important and should definitely be read.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading my review! I hope I’ve helped aid you in your decision to read this book. If you have read it or if you’re thinking about reading it, let me know what you thought in the comments! And as always, happy reading!