Review: Home Fire
Updated: Sep 12
Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie (2017)
To say this book is based loosely on the Sophocles play Antigone makes it sound loftier than I want it to. And yet, at heart it is a story about personal and family identity, sacrifice, nationalism, and love... which is a pretty lofty set of words, when taken together. Home Fire is heartbreaking but feels so truthful, and in that truth there is a lot of beauty - like the grief of losing a loved one mixed with the deep love that leads you to grieve in the first place.
Antigone tells the story of a young woman who defies a king in an attempt to secure an "honorable burial" for her brother. I didn't know about the connection to the play going into this book, and you don't need to. But if you do, you'll see and appreciate the parallels, I think.
Home Fire is told from the perspective of five different characters: The three Pasha siblings - Isma, the elder sister to twins Aneeka and Parvaiz - British Home Secretary Karamat Lone, and his son Eamonn. Londoners by birth, the Pashas are Pakistani Muslims, raised mostly by Isma, since their mother passed away and their father abandoned the family to become a jihadi fighter. The siblings each deal with these truths in their own way, grappling with their identities - as the children of a terrorist who died on his way to Guantanamo Bay, as British citizens, as practicing Muslims. Isma escapes to Amherst, MA to complete a post graduate degree, while Aneeka throws herself into her school work - studying to become a lawyer - and into her many social engagements and romantic trysts. Parvaiz, the sole male of the family, struggles with a purpose until he is recruited to "join the fight" in Syria, like his father before him.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Lone, a former Muslim who has, in the view of many, rejected his people, condemns Muslims who do not conform to British ideals. His son Eamonn, who grew up idealizing his father, meets Isma and Aneeka and begins to understand the many complexities they face... What does it mean to be Muslim and British? Foreign but native? Patriotic yet loyal to your family? How do you define your cultural identity when it seems to clash with your national identity? Who do you pledge your allegiance to, when faced with that choice?
Every character makes difficult choices, and every character has flaws. I had moments when I disagreed with those choices, and moments when I completely understood the reasoning behind them. Home Fire is thought-provoking and topical, but never felt unduly heavy. It's a dramatic tragedy, but the characters are so life-like, including their faults, that I never felt burdened by the drama. I just felt moved by their sacrifices for one another.
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